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How to Give Negative Feedback as a Manager: Our 8 Best Tips

When delivered properly, negative feedback can be a powerful tool for improving employee performance. Learn more with our best tips.

Feedback meetings can be intimidating for both you and your team – especially if you’re providing negative or constructive feedback. Importantly, though, providing negative feedback is not a bad thing! It’s an important way to help your team grow  and build a better work environment. Read on to learn how to give negative feedback in ways that work for you and your whole team. 

What is considered negative feedback?

Negative feedback is constructive criticism you deliver to a team member about their work or behavior. You’re best off delivering negative feedback shortly after something happens instead of pairing it with positive feedback in a performance review meeting

Critical feedback can feel terrible to give – and not all team members are great at receiving negative feedback. However, constructive criticism shared kindly and in good faith has an undeniable impact on employee productivity and performance. Your goal should be to help team members learn from their mistakes so they can be their best selves at work. Being transparent with your team member and ensuring they understand that this feedback is being given in hopes to help them grow and succeed in their job is crucial.

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8 Tips on how to give negative feedback

Delivering negative feedback can feel uncomfortable, but it can be done well. The below eight tips can help you deliver negative feedback effectively whether you’re speaking with a new hire or someone who’s always led the pack. 

1 Make sure your emotions are balanced

Giving negative feedback the right way means being in the right mindset to do so. As in, if you’re feeling angry or upset, you could come off more harsh than you mean to – not a great look. It’s probably best to save the meeting for another day.

You want the person you’re speaking with to be in a good mood as well, so they’re more receptive to your feedback. This way, you can both have a better conversation without anyone getting defensive. 

2 Schedule a feedback meeting

When you deliver feedback, you should always consider how you would like to receive it. You wouldn’t want to be asked to meet without warning or called out in front of everyone else, right? So Instead of pulling someone aside or speaking to them in front of the entire team, schedule a feedback meeting. This shows that you respect your team members, and since it’s just you two, the other person might feel more comfortable opening up to you. 

3 Talk about work and behavior, not the person

When you give feedback, tie it to a specific behavior instead of faulting the individual. For example, if a team member has been mishandling client meetings, you should offer suggestions on how they can improve. You shouldn’t say “you did a bad job” – that’s how you make someone feel embarrassed or attacked. And how will they learn and grow then?

4 Give feedback soon after something happens 

Timing is everything, especially when you’re giving negative feedback. That means providing negative feedback as soon as possible after something goes wrong. Calling in your team members right when things happen means they can start improving in real-time. It’s a great way to get folks changing their behavior now rather than letting it continue for weeks or months. 

5 Don’t delay negative feedback with compliments 

Some managers compliment their team members at the start of a constructive feedback meeting, and while that’s understandable, it’s not a good idea. Buttering up your team members before letting them down can actually work against you. Think about it: Doesn’t it hurt more when you fall from farther above? Dive in right away with honest feedback about any issues and show the other person how to improve. 

6 Be specific

You’re giving constructive criticism to help your team members do better work. Feedback they can’t act on won’t help here. Your feedback should be specific so the team member knows exactly what steps they should take to improve. For example, instead of saying, “You didn’t fill out this form correctly,” you should tell them what isn’t right and how they should fix it. 

7 Have a conversation

Yes, you’re talking to your team member about their performance or behavior, but you’re not talking at them – you’re talking with them. Ditch the lecture and go for more of a conversation between you two. Once you’ve addressed the issue, give your team member some time to respond and ask questions. 

8 Create an action plan and follow up 

Telling someone what they’re doing wrong can only go so far. It’s a great start, but without action, it’s just an idea. You and your team member should create an action plan to cover specific performance goals and timeframes to achieve them. You should also schedule a few dates to meet and keep talking about their progress – and how you can keep helping them improve. 

The importance of giving negative feedback

Although delivering negative feedback can be difficult, it’s super important for any great team. Below are some reasons why you should give negative feedback whenever it becomes necessary.

1 Improves team performance

Your team members aren’t mind-readers. They’re not always going to know they’re doing anything wrong unless you give them feedback. Once they receive the feedback, they’ll be more likely to do better work to meet (or exceed) the standards you’ve set. 

2 Makes you a better manager

Once you learn how to give negative feedback the right way, you’ll probably feel more confident. And the more your team takes well to your negative feedback, the more you’ll feel excited and prepared to coach your team to success. You’ll also get more comfortable regularly checking in with your team to see how everything is going. 

3 Clears up your expectations

Constructive feedback is a great way to make your expectations crystal-clear. After it, your team will know how to do each of their tasks exactly the right way. That’s a great way to reduce anxiety, confusion, and all that unhelpful emotion across the office (or the Slack channel if your team is remote). 

4 Helps employees feel supported

Although negative feedback isn’t always fun to hear, it still is better than no feedback at all. If anything, feedback – whether positive or negative – shows that you’re paying attention. That’s a bat signal to team members that you care, and most importantly, that you want to help them grow. 

5 Allows for questions

A feedback meeting is the perfect opportunity for your team members to ask questions – just about any questions at all. This way, once they leave the meeting, they have a better idea of what you expect of them moving forward. From there, they can do better work – and, since they know what they’re doing, enjoy it too. 

6 Improves work quality

This might sound like a broken record at this point, but: Negative feedback shouldn’t make your team feel like they’re doing their job wrong. Your goal is to help them do better work. When you show your team what they’re doing wrong and put together an action plan to improve, they’ll usually do better work. 

7 Promotes loyalty

When you give feedback effectively – even if it’s negative – your team members will more likely feel supported and seen. That can make them feel happier and more satisfied at work, which has two great benefits. For starters, it means your team will work harder and care more about their work. It also means they’re less likely to leave your team and work elsewhere. 

What to consider when delivering negative feedback

Below are a few factors you may want to consider before delivering constructive criticism.

1 Give negative feedback carefully 

The way you go about delivering negative feedback can play a big part in the response you get. For example, if a team member is struggling, take the time to show them a better way the first time. That’s better than calling them into your office time and again. If you schedule your meetings too frequently, the team member can start to feel self-conscious, which can lead to low self-esteem at work.

2 Check your body language

What you should say when you give negative feedback isn’t the only thing that matters – so does your body language. If your shoulders are straight back and your hands are folded, that can come off tense, almost like you’re ready to say something really negative. Your team member might get defensive and wind up not listening to you.

Instead, maintain eye contact and be loose – not slouching, but not rigid – with your posture. When your team member speaks, nod to show that you’re listening. 

3 Don’t focus solely on weaknesses

Exclusively discussing what went wrong can make someone feel like they’re doing everything incorrectly. Instead, you should give the team member direction on how they can improve while mentioning something they’re doing right. Ideally, that good thing is a factor in your negative feedback. 

Kameron Jenkins, Content and SEO Lead at Shopify Retail, explains further. “I try to tie [negative feedback] to a strength,” he said. “If they’re pacing slow, it could be because they’re very thorough, so I can acknowledge that while still calling out the need to speed up.” 

4 Know that not every solution will help

Sometimes, what you think is a solution is actually a total non-starter. For example, maybe you’re planning to directly tell your team member how to fix something. But maybe what you say doesn’t make sense. What if the problem isn’t that your team member messed up – it’s that they never had enough information?

During your feedback meeting, ask your team member some questions to help them reflect. This way, you can figure out where there are gaps – and what you can both do to close them. 

5 Avoid the feedback sandwich

A feedback sandwich involves telling a team member what they’re doing wrong in between what they’re doing right, similar to starting off your meeting with a compliment. You might do it to come off less like you only have bad things to say, but you’re doing that for your own sake. You should deliver feedback in ways that benefit your team members, not yourself, as feedback sandwiches only help you feel better about delivering what could seem like bad news.

With a feedback sandwich, the two positives you provide will outweigh the one negative, which does no favors for your team member. They might leave your meeting thinking they’re doing a wonderful job. That isn’t the point you were trying to make. You might feel less bad during the meeting since you said positive things, but you’ll keep seeing poor performance afterward. And that will just keep making you unhappy. There are better ways to go about it.

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Give feedback the right way with Fellow 

Providing negative feedback to your team members can improve their work. To give the best feedback, you’ll need a tool that gets feedback from your team and schedules meetings to chat about it all. With Fellow, you can request feedback, create collaborative agendas, and take notes for all your feedback meetings. You can focus on helping your team thrive all from one streamlined platform.

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Konstantin Tsiryulnikov

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