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Performance

6 Ways to Give Negative Feedback to Employees (with examples)

21 September 2022

8 min read

Lynette Teo
Lynette Teo

In every leader’s career, there are times when you need to provide negative feedback to your direct reports. 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. In fact, 1 in 5 employees says the feedback they get at work doesn’t help them grow and develop.

How you give feedback can have a huge impact on an employee’s success, engagement, and trust in you. This is why giving effective feedback is an important skill that leaders must develop.

Read on for tips on how to improve your feedback skills, 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?

Giving negative feedback can be difficult and tricky. But you do so because offering constructive feedback to employees shows that you are invested in their progress and achievement.

The point of giving negative feedback is not to highlight mistakes or failures. Constructive criticism is done to highlight something that they were unaware of, with the intention to help, and not reprimand.

Feedback cultivates learning, whether it’s positive or negative feedback. Ongoing development and growth opportunities are one of the most important factors for job satisfaction. Therefore, having a manager who is good at delivering negative feedback can make a big difference in the employee experience, not to mention their performance.

6 Tips on How to Give Negative Feedback Effectively

Even with strong communication skills and a healthy level of trust, giving negative feedback is never easy. It is normal to feel anxious about what will happen and how your employee will receive your feedback. What if they get angry? Cry? Or quit?

Remember that you have more control over how you deliver negative feedback than how you received it. Being prepared can make the feedback process less stressful and lead to more productive conversations. Use these tips on how to give better feedback at your next session.


#1 Prepare Your Talking Points

It is always important to plan out what you want to say and how you will say it. This will help you stick to the key points you want to address and properly convey your negative feedback. If possible, try it out with a trusted colleague or friend to get an outsider’s perspective on how your feedback comes across.

Questions to help you prepare:

  • 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?
  • What is the next step?
  • 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 Decide When is Best Time to Deliver Feedback

Finding the appropriate time matters when giving negative feedback to employees. For example, delivering negative feedback to an employee in front of other employees can be an uncomfortable and embarrassing situation, and should be avoided. This can make employees harbor resentment and be less responsive to your feedback and be less motivated to succeed. Choose a time when you can speak privately in person so that you can express any thoughts and concerns. 

Also, it is better to provide feedback right after reviewing the project. The longer you take to provide feedback, the less effective it will be. On the other hand, never give feedback when you are feeling frustrated or angry towards an employee. Initiating a difficult conversation too early can result in an unproductive and emotionally driven conversation that can do more harm than good. It is a good idea to wait until you are feeling more level-headed to give feedback to your employee.


#3 Stay Professional and Avoid Getting 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 take this into consideration 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.

Specific examples of professional constructive negative feedback:

  • Instead of: You’re too slow and you’re not keeping up with your peers.
  • Try saying: I noticed you were struggling to meet your deadline last week, is there anything you would like to share?
  • Instead of: I noticed that you have a tendency to use words ‘like’ and ‘um’ during your presentation, it does come off really unprofessional.
  • Try saying: The content of your presentation was excellent, and I have a few pointers for a more impactful delivery if you’re open to my feedback.

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 likely to take offense to any negative feedback when it is supported by statistics. It shows that the feedback is not personal, but they are underperforming. For example, you can say “I noticed a 25% decrease in sales this month. Why do you think this happened and what can be done to improve it?”


#4 Ask Questions and Listen Carefully

A good way to approach this is to adopt the coaching questions approach. Start off 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:

  1. How do you think [name the topic of discussion] is going right now?
  2. Have you ever had issues like this in the past? How did you deal with them?
  3. Do you have ideas on how we can improve the current situation or avoid it in the future?


#5 Be Honest and Open

We get it, nobody likes giving negative feedback, especially if you and your employee are friends, or you do not want to come off as harsh and mean. You might find yourself wanting to sugarcoat your feedback. Managers often sandwich their negative feedback with positive feedback and focus on what they did well. 

Don’t be afraid to be honest. Withholding negative feedback will only hurt the employee and the organization in the long run, limiting their full potential and mislead them about their progress. Furthermore, this act can come off as disingenuous and undermine trust between managers and employees. Instead, start off with positive comments, and follow up with honest and direct negative ones.

Avoid giving vague feedback. It leads to more confusion, employees are unsure of what went wrong and how to fix it, or whether it lives up to your expectations. This causes more stress and makes it worse. Be honest and upfront, tell them exactly what went wrong, and help them understand what needs to be changed and how they can improve.


#6 Discuss Solutions and Determine Next Steps

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:

  1. Raise the issue at hand and present the facts.
  2. Discuss how it affects the team, project, or company.
  3. Figure out how to resolve the situation together and find a solution.

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 in your next discussion.

How Do You Give Negative Feedback?

Learning the best way to give negative feedback to your employees takes practice. Having this difficult conversation with them is not easy, but it is absolutely necessary to help your employees progress and succeed. Each employee is different and responds differently to feedback so it takes time to understand each individual and cater your feedback to them.

Communicate openly with your employees and ask them what works best for them and how they would like to receive feedback.

Using the tips above, employees are more likely to be responsive and empowered by negative feedback, leading to greater engagement and productivity in their work.

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