What’s the Best Way to Provide Negative Feedback?

Employer Advice | PreviewMe | 18 October 2018

For a lot of people, negative feedback can be hard to listen too and even harder to provide. For most managers, providing positive feedback is a walk in the park compared to sitting someone down and telling them what they are doing wrong or where they need to improve.

However, a natural part of being in a leadership position is being able to tell someone when they need to pull their socks up. While it’s never a fun task, there is certainly a way to soften the blow and turn a negative message into a positive, constructive one.


Make it uncommon

It’s important workplaces are a positive environment, where people feel comfortable and safe to express their ideas and be themselves. However, when our work environments are filled with negativity and criticism, people tend to walk on eggshells and stop caring.

That’s why negative feedback should not be an everyday thing, instead try to save it for when it is most appropriate.


Don’t let them build up

While it is important to provide negative feedback at the appropriate time, we need to be mindful not to stockpile the issues.

Stockpiling criticism will lead to two issues, firstly, you can only hold onto so much negative feedback before it all spills out, secondly, people tend to absorb criticism better in small doses.


It’s not a time to vent

Remember giving someone negative feedback is not a time to unload all your frustrations and issues onto them. Providing feedback is meant to be a practice of making someone better, not blowing them up.

This is an issue that arises when we stockpile a large number of issues or criticisms we have with someone. In a lot of cases, this actually has the potential to cause real anger and resentment between the two parties.


Do it in person

If you have something to say, do it in person. If you need to provide an employee with a subtle kick up the backside, it is best to do it face-to-face. This way you are able to talk it through, gauge reactions and have a proper conversation. Doing it via email opens the gate to a raft of miscommunication and confusion.


Don’t forget to listen

Providing feedback is a two-way conversation. Make sure you take the time to listen to what the other individual is saying and how they are feeling. Listening to and understanding the other individuals' point of view will allow you to figure out the root cause of the issue.

Effective feedback is about articulating an issue and then taking the time to put strategies in place to fix the issues. This can’t happen if it’s a one-way conversation.


Get to the bottom of it

Whether you are in a formal setting, such as a performance review, or an informal one, make sure you take the time to understand what is causing the issues. Try not to share the feedback and then run. Instead, try to understand the other individuals perspective.

You never know what could be causing the issues. Maybe there is an issue with a co-worker, maybe there's an issue at home, or maybe they just don’t understand their role. These insights will help both parties set out a plan for how to improve in the future.


Seek self-evaluation

If you are about to dish out some negative feedback, chances are that individual knows it’s coming. The majority of the time people know when they have made a mistake or where they need to improve.

Asking the individual, “what do you think went wrong?” or “how would you do it better next time?” is a great way of driving self-evaluation. This will encourage the individual to acknowledge the issues and allow them input on how to avoid the situation in the future.


Be open

If you are encouraging a culture of openness and transparency within your office, be open to receiving negative feedback as well. Not only will this show that no one is above the law but it could also open you up to new ideas and ways of operating.

For managers, there is almost nothing more valuable than open and honest feedback about our performances or leadership styles. If you are able to take this feedback on board, chances are you’ll be able to improve your leadership style and others will be more willing to work under you.


Negative feedback is a natural part of any professional environment, while it isn’t always pleasant to provide, it is a part of being a leader. Instead of looking at it as a negative thing, view it as a constructive piece of information that the recipient can use to improve their performance.