How to Deliver Negative Feedback in a Constructive Way

Posted by Julie • August 23, 2016 (Last modified July 29, 2018) • 3 min read

Delivering negative feedback isn’t the most enjoyable part of managing a team. In fact, a study determined that 43% of leaders feel giving corrective feedback is a “stressful and difficult experience.” Like it or not, the process is something your employees need from you, so it’s time to toughen it up and keep these 3 things in mind when delivering critiques to your workforce.


1. Cool Your Jets

Sometimes negative feedback needs to be delivered during a high-stress time. The employee or team of employees may have made a company altering mistake, and in addition to the need for a hard conversation, there may be an immediate need for action. Liane Davey (@LianeDavey), VP at Knightsbridge Human Capital warns against approaching critiques when still feeling the stress.

“Unfortunately, if you’re stressed and anxious when delivering feedback, it will translate into poor communication (often abruptness or rambling), which will make it hard for the recipient to hear, understand, and apply the value of the information you’re delivering. Worse, your discomfort will be mirrored by the recipient and the interaction might actually erode his or her trust in you instead of enhancing it.”

Real-world solution: Instead of delivering constructive feedback immediately, plan a future meeting for the conversation. Focus all the team’s attention on damage control and deliver the feedback at a later time. Schedule a quiet hour in the middle or end of the week so you avoid emotionally charged feedback sessions.


Read more: Performance Management is the UI of Employees


2. Mention Mistakes, Focus on Growth

The whole point of constructive feedback is to help the employee, or team, grow from missteps. They can’t be unspoken for, but what was done improperly should be the conversation starter. If it becomes the focus of the meeting you have formulated, then step back and be sure you aren’t letting your frustration enter the conversation. It won’t be easy to leave your emotions out, but it is pivotal to the professional relationship you have with your employees.

Real-world solution: Write the problem down. Make it as point blank as possible, simply answering the who, what, when and where. Chances are the employee knows without you saying a thing, but it is important to address. Then move forward, explaining where the problem first started and how to approach it again in the future. Keep it positive and be sure to highlight how constructive feedback is important to their career within your organization.


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3. Understand the Person Behind the Mistake

Another stress a manager knows well is that of catering to the various personalities of his or her team. You cannot lead a team of individuals without realizing it is just that: a team comprised of separate entities with various skill sets and attitudes. Some employees will take direct feedback without any nonsense, while another employee will  need words of affirmation to feel confident in their job after a mistake. Tailoring your message may seem like a lot of work and, depending on how you identify with feedback, might even be difficult to do, but it is so pivotal to maintaining the engagement of your worker.

Real-world solution: Take a moment to really understand what motivates the employee or employees. Are they aspiring for career progression? Do they like when you pull them aside for a quick compliment on a job well done? Having a clear idea of what drives employee productivity will give you a solid idea of what will demotivate them. Find a way to tie their goals into the conversation and relate the criticisms back to building those aspirations.


Read more: Want to write employee performance goals like the boss you are?


It won’t be fun for you or the employee. No one likes to feel like they failed. Fortunately, comfort yourself with the knowledge that 92% of respondents agree that negative feedback, when delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.

Have you already developed an amazing feedback system? Tell us about it and your performance management techniques!

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