No one likes to complete a task, finalize a project or give a presentation and have their boss come to them with “feedback” telling them everything they did wrong.

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall point to research finding that feedback centered around actions an employee did wrong activates the fight or flight response in the brain, lessening activity in the cognitive centers and hindering learning rather than promoting it.

Furthermore, they argue that each individual sees the world through their own lens of prior experiences and unconscious biases; therefore, no individual can truly provide feedback that is objective. Instead, Buckingham and Goodall recommend feedback focusing on outcomes rather than actions and presented as a manager’s individual perspective rather than as an absolute truth.

I remember the first time I was in charge of a division-wide annual budget. Towards the end of the process, an executive conveyed to me the problem he was experiencing, having relied on a version of the budget that wasn’t final. The complaint was focused on the problem the executive was experiencing, rather than on any action I did or did not take to cause the problem.

Based on the executive’s feedback, I immediately saw where the budgeting process could have used more communication and what changes I could make the following year. As I fully understood the undesirable outcome of the process, I did not need anyone to tell me what I did wrong to produce that outcome or what I should do differently the next time. In addition, because the comments were presented as the experiences of the individual rather than as an absolute statement, I did not feel criticized, blamed or a need to take the comments personally—feelings we often have when receiving negative feedback. I felt empowered to determine the solution and make the changes myself.

So the next time you need to evaluate an employee on their latest project or give an unfavorable critique, consider focusing on the outcomes you are observing rather than the actions you saw your employee do; present the information as your individual perspective rather than as absolute truth.

For example, try the following approach for critiquing an employee or a process:

  • Explain the issue: Here’s the problem I’m experiencing/observing, and here’s my reaction.
  • Convey your takeaways from the presentation of information.
  • Cover external concerns: Here are the specific complaints that have come my way (name the person or department complaining and describe the particular situation so the employee can put the complaint into context).
  • Provide additional context from your perspective and without assigning blame or dictating next steps: Here’s what I’m not understanding rather than here’s what you did wrong or here’s what you must now do going forward.

Even when the feedback is negative, you can provide a positive learning experience for employees that will sustain great work, productivity and an ongoing investment in the organization.