Is This Year’s Gift a Lump of Coal?


A lump of coal has a negative connotation in our holiday traditions.  Misbehaving children would receive a lump of coal in their stockings instead of gifts as a reminder to do better next year.  Is the delivery of a few lumps of coal on your list this year as a leader?  How can negative feedback, that lump of coal, be a gift to both the organization and the recipient?

Just the thought of delivering negative feedback makes us cringe, shirk, avoid and otherwise not give it.  There is nothing enjoyable or positive that we can see about the process or its outcome.

Negative feedback is needed when:

•  Results don’t meet expectations

•  Actions don’t align with business focus

•  Behavior creates issues

How does a conversation about these issues possibly deliver a positive outcome for both parties?  Use the questions below to frame your conversation.

If results don’t meet expectations:

1.  Were expectations clear?

2.  Does the person have the tools to deliver what is expected?

3.  What created the gap between results and expectations?

If actions don’t align:

1.  Were expectations of actions made clear?

2.  What was the reason for the action selected?

3.  Is the person capable of delivering the appropriate action?

If behavior creates issues:

1.   Is the person aware of the issue?

2.  What action could be taken to remedy the issue?

3.  Is the person willing to take action?

These questions clarify the issue and can change the conversation from negative to neutral.  The emotion is removed from at least one side of the exchange.  Be prepared that the recipient of the feedback may become defensive or upset.  If this is the case, allow time for them to gather their composure and continue the conversation at a later date.  The likelihood of a positive outcome, or at least an improvement in action or behavior, is greatly increased when both parties can minimize emotion and focus on the issue.

Positive results are not always the outcome of these conversations.  Sometimes the best thing for the individual and the organization is a parting of ways.  Follow a framework like the one above to provide an opportunity for the optimal outcome.


This will be our last message for 2017.  If you find that you need to deliver a lump of coal or that “oops!”, you are on the receiving end of a lump of coal, consider our newest offering to kick-start your year and Launch Your Leadership!

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