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10 Ways Managers Can Give Negative Feedback More Constructively
Brenda Smyth

November 28, 2017


You’ve got to be brave to give honest feedback.

You’ve also got to be tactful, compassionate and objective. Because nobody really likes being criticized. And it’s important to carefully consider these interactions according to, because people are more likely to remember criticism inaccurately and more strongly.

If the real point of your negative feedback is to help an employee grow, your delivery has to be spot on. You don’t want the recipient of your critique to feel attacked … to become defensive or shut down without considering what you’re saying. But you also have to be careful not to sugar coat it—so the employee misses the point.

It’s also important to consider each situation carefully before reacting. New employees need more cheerleading—more encouragement and praise. Experienced employees who are more confident in their abilities are more likely to appreciate negative feedback as a way to help them continue improving weaker skills. And you’ve got to be sensitive to the varying personalities on your team.

Here are ten suggestions for delivering negative feedback:

  1. Enter the discussion with the right purpose: Helping the other person improve. If you’re angry, get control of your emotions before you begin talking with your employee.
  2. Build strong relationships over time. We are all much more likely to accept negative feedback from someone we trust. Daily interactions with members of your team will help build trust and mutual respect.
  3. Don’t only give negative feedback. Make sure you are just as quick to point out positive work as you are to find fault. If your only encounters with employees are to criticize, your encounters will soon be demotivating.
  4. Be clear and specific. Don’t beat around the bush in an effort to be kind. Use tactful words that aren’t personal. If the situation is serious, tell them. And be clear on what improvements you expect in the future. If there are numbers supporting your discussion, share them with the employee.
  5. Don’t bury it between compliments. Although this one sounds like a contradiction to #3 above, it’s tricky. You do want to compliment the strong work of employees over time, but perhaps not in the same conversation as the negative feedback. Offering both in one conversation can dilute what you’re saying. Several sources however (, do suggest sandwiching bad feedback between good. So take this on a case-by-case basis—if there were negative and positive aspects of a particular project where it makes sense to discuss them in one conversation, go for it.
  6. Don’t put it off. Don’t save up your multiple criticism for one BIG event. Quickly and gently address issues as they happen so the employee can make corrections and progress steadily.
  7. Criticize privately. Don’t deliver your remarks in earshot of the employee’s colleagues.
  8. Don’t make it personal. Stick to the facts by stating the behavior or results you’ve seen. Statements that begin with “you” are more likely to cause a combative reaction (unless you’re praising someone). Stick to “I” statements when possible.
    1. Wrong: “You don’t seem to care about your deadlines.”
    2. Right: “I depend on you to stay on schedule and I noticed that you missed your last three deadlines.”
  9. Use the word “yet.” “I like the direction this article is headed, but I don’t think we’re there yet.” Tacking on that one little word softens the delivery and implies that you’re leaving room for improvement, suggests Jocelyn K. Glei for
  10. Allow for discussion. Encourage interaction by asking questions that help you understand causes of poor performance or behavior. 

Don’t shy away from giving negative feedback to employees. Delivered thoughtfully, it helps each of us improve.


Related article: How to Reach Workers Who Overestimate Their Competence

Related article: Expect More … From Low Performing Employees


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