In every leader’s career, there are times when you need to provide constructive criticism to your direct reports (or your peers). A person may be underperforming, have interpersonal issues with other team members, or feel disengaged from their work. This is when you need to step up and offer honest feedback to improve the situation. But it’s not always clear how to best give tough feedback in a way that resonates with the recipient.
Learning how to give negative feedback can help ensure your feedback has a positive impact on an employee’s success, engagement, and overall trust in your leadership. Read on for tips on how to give negative feedback, create a feedback culture within your team, and turn constructive criticism into a positive experience for your team members.
Why Is It Important to Know How to Give Negative Feedback?
Answering the question of how to give negative feedback can be difficult and tricky. While it may be uncomfortable, offering constructive feedback shows that you are invested in your employee’s progress and achievement.
The point of giving negative feedback is not to highlight mistakes or failures. Constructive criticism is done to highlight opportunities for growth and improvement and should come from a place of resolution, not reprimand.
Feedback cultivates learning, whether it’s positive or negative. Ongoing development and growth opportunities are one of the most important factors for job satisfaction, so having a manager who is good at delivering negative feedback can make a big difference in the employee experience, not to mention their performance.
The 10 ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ of how to give negative feedback
Even with strong communication skills and a healthy level of trust, giving negative feedback is never easy. But with the right set of tools and a growth mindset, you can learn how to give negative feedback in a way that encourages employees and promotes growth, rather than dread.
Be prepared for your next feedback session with these 10 ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ of how to give negative feedback, and make your feedback process less stressful, leading to more productive conversations.
1. Do prepare your talking points
Like any meeting, feedback sessions are more productive when you plan. Avoid getting sidetracked or missing key points by preparing your talking points ahead of time. Consider cross-checking your feedback by asking these questions:
- Did you address the who, what, where, when, and why of the situation?
- Did you identify specific behaviors or give specific examples?
- What are the 2-3 most important things you want your negative feedback to convey? Does this feedback convey those points?
- Did you prepare the next steps for the employee?
- What are your intentions for sharing this feedback?
Understanding your intentions helps you measure the success of your feedback. The goal should always be positive, whether to improve one’s performance, address disengagement, or manage peer relationships.
2. Don’t be vague
We get it, nobody likes giving negative feedback, especially if you and your employee have a close rapport. You might find yourself wanting to sugarcoat your feedback or offer indirect statements to soften the interaction. While your feedback must be kind and constructive, being vague isn’t helpful and only further confuses and misguides employees.
Offer direct, to-the-point feedback that allows your employee to easily understand what they need to work on and help them understand what needs to be changed and how they can improve. Clarity is compassionate and offers employees the tools they need to reach their full potential.
A good rule of thumb for how to give negative feedback is the sandwich method: offer two positive comments on either end of your negative feedback. Here’s an example:
“Great job on your presentation today! I thought the information you offered was well-researched and informative. However, your slides were hard to follow. Next time, try using the company template to add more clarity. Again, the overall presentation was great, and you did a fantastic job speaking to your research, with revised slides I think the audience will be more engaged.”
3. Do pick a convenient time
Providing feedback, especially negative feedback, should be done at a time that allows the employee to truly hear what you have to say, and have space to ask questions. Be mindful of the setting and timing of your feedback conversations to maximize your impact.
For example, a good tip for how to give negative feedback is to praise in public and criticize in private. Avoid pointing out weaknesses or errors in front of your employees teammates and peers, as this can cause your employee to get defensive or lose trust in your relationship.
When you want to offer feedback, schedule some time for a 1-on-1 meeting to ensure you have the time and space to properly discuss the feedback you’re giving.
4. Don’t shut down
Managing employees requires a personal investment from HR and managers, and takes considerable time and effort to maintain a relationship with your direct reports. If you’re having trouble with an employee and find yourself having to give negative feedback, it’s important to create the space for those conversations and not shut down.
If you find yourself avoiding the conversation or ignoring an employee’s poor performance, you might be experiencing signs of burnout. Ask for support from your peers and recommit to the journey of guiding employees to their best performance.
5. Do stay professional
When considering how to give negative feedback it’s important to remember that even though your rapport with employees may feel friendly and casual at times, your ultimate goal is to manage them. This means it’s important to remain professional when delivering constructive feedback. This not only takes the personal element out of the interaction it helps convey the seriousness and growth opportunity to your employee, leading to more purposeful conversations.
Furthermore, you should always document your feedback conversations with employees to provide a clear timeline and picture of their performance. Writing warning letters for employee poor performance is one of the first steps you should take when approaching the conversation of negative feedback with employees.
6. Don’t make it personal
It is easy for employees to become defensive when given negative feedback on their work if they feel personally attacked. This results in more resistance and is less likely to implement any necessary and meaningful changes that are asked of them. So, when managers are giving their feedback, it’s important to consider this and deliver feedback in a way that is not personal but professional. Employees receiving feedback should never feel as if they, as a person, are not capable of doing well or improving. Always encourage employees and offer solutions to help them improve.
Also, focus your feedback solely on the work and not the person, use data and numbers to back up what you are saying. Employees are less likely to take offense to negative feedback when it is supported by statistics. It shows that the feedback is not personal, and gives a tangible target to work on and improve.
7. Do ask questions
Offering constructive feedback should come from a place of curiosity and an eagerness to help your employee reach their potential. More often than not, when an employee is underperforming it is because they are struggling in some area and need your support. Be sure to leave room for questions and answers during your feedback conversations.
A good way to approach this is to adopt the coaching questions approach. Start by asking questions to guide them through the issue at hand and let them draw their own conclusions. Listen to their theories about what could be improved. You may be surprised by their findings.
Try the past-present-future method:
- How do you think [name the topic of discussion] is going right now?
- Have you ever had issues like this in the past? How did you deal with them?
- Do you have ideas on how we can improve the current situation or avoid it in the future?
8. Don’t make assumptions
The moment you make an assumption about an employee’s underperformance, you close the door for a true constructive conversation. One of the key components to how to give negative feedback is to keep an open mind and be prepared to hear what your employee has to say about the situation. A good rule of thumb is to assume the best and prepare for the worst. That way, you leave space for employees to work their way back to a good standing and can provide the support they need to improve their performance.
9. Do offer solutions
Ongoing feedback is a crucial part of improving employee performance and helping team members grow. So, don’t only share your current perspective, but also discuss how the feedback will apply in the future, and how employees can apply it in their day-to-day work.
Try the problem-implication-solution approach:
Regardless of where the conversation begins, it is important to establish the next steps. Help your employee identify a few action points to follow up on in your next discussion.
10. Don’t leave them hanging
Offering negative feedback without a path forward is not only discouraging but harmful to employee morale. Understand that feedback conversations are meant to help nurture employee performance and provide a path forward. Be sure to wrap up a feedback session with the next steps and an action plan for employees to follow. It’s also a good practice to schedule a follow-up conversation to revisit the issue down the line and assess how the action plan worked out.
Empower Employee Growth with Omni
Learning how to give negative feedback to your employees takes practice. Feedback is an essential part of managing an engaged and productive workforce and requires consistent, open, and organized communication.
Omni makes it easy to communicate with your employees with customizable templates and automated communications for instant feedback loops that promote increased employee engagement and high-performing teams. Get in touch with our team to schedule a demo, or try a free 14-day trial to see for yourself.