How to Give Negative Feedback

Sometimes in leadership positions, we have to give people bad news. We need to ask them to improve productivity, switch departments, or wear deodorant. It may not be fun, but it’s part of the job.


Smelly Nellie

I used to work as a manager at a retail store. One of our teenage employees would ride her bike to work sometimes. The days she rode her bike were obvious because she developed a strong odor that was not-so-pleasant for coworkers and customers. It's not easy telling a sweet, young girl that she stinks, but it's important to help employees recognize their errors and improve.

How can we make sure that we're really helping our employees improve? Here are some tips for giving constructive criticism to help you and your employees find solutions to problems.


Don’t “Sandwich” Feedback

Many people have heard of the sandwich approach, where you give 1 compliment, 1 piece of criticism, and 1 more compliment. Although it’s meant to help people feel valued when they’re being critiqued, it can blur your goal and confuse the employee. Be clear. Tell people when they aren’t meeting expectations and be proactive about giving positive feedback when it’s earned. Be quick to correct and to praise.

One at a Time

Some leaders will meet with an employee to cover a list of concerns that they’ve been stockpiling for weeks or months. If you really want someone to improve, give them 1 thing to focus on at a time. When too much feedback is given, fewer improvements are made.


Listen to Their Story

Sometimes we’re too quick to judge. It’s natural to be irritated when someone is continually late or not following protocols, but there might be a reason for it that you don’t know about. Express your concern and then hear their story. The solution might be simpler than you think.

Talk In-Person

Just as you shouldn’t  break up with someone over text, don’t give constructive feedback over IM or email. Show respect by meeting in-person or at least on the phone. Giving feedback is not just about dishing out your concerns. Being able to read body language and listen to others’ responses is valuable in determining how to help employees.


Ask Questions to Find a Solution

Simply telling people that they need to improve won’t change much. It’s like saying, “I need to lose weight” and never making a plan to eat healthier. Ask questions to help others come up with a plan for improvement. If they think of the plan themselves, they’ll probably be more dedicated to it. Encourage them to write down their plan so they remember it.

The Hard Truth

As much as we need to learn to give negative feedback effectively, we also need to learn to accept and even seek criticism for ourselves. Humility is one of the star attributes of a good leader. When you make changes based on feedback, you build trust by showing others that you care about their concerns.

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