Giving Negative Feedback…Yuck!

Giving Negative Feedback…Yuck!

It seems like leaders tend to be divided into two camps: those who criticize every little thing, and those who never criticize anything.

Both can be equally destructive.

I talked about being overly negative—correcting every little thing instead of giving meaningful compliments. I suggested staying away from negative comments and focusing on praising positive behaviors.

And I still think that’s a good way to go.  Most of the time.

But what do you do when you absolutely must give negative feedback for one reason or another?

Delivering negative feedback…Yuck!

Let’s face it: Delivering negative feedback is a bummer, whether it’s in a casual conversation or an annual performance review.

We don’t like doing it, staff doesn’t like hearing it, and it’s just an uncomfortable situation all around.

And if you don’t like confrontation, it’s very tempting to ignore problems rather than address them.

But not providing negative feedback isn’t the answer, especially when something big is on the line.

Start with clear expectations.

Having these kinds of conversations is never going to be fun, but going into them with clear expectations can help.

Remember to be crystal clear and focused in the conversation.

Some people suggest sandwiching negative feedback with statements of praise, but that can just muddy the waters. (Is she correcting me or telling me I’m doing a good job?)


Keep your conversation short and to the point for maximum impact. (Plus, it’s over faster—a win-win for both of you.)

Focus on these tips to give better negative feedback.

These tips might also make delivering negative feedback a little simpler:

  • Remember: there’s a difference between criticism and feedback. Constructive negative feedback should focus on an example, because when there isn’t a specific incident that can be cited, the recipient can easily argue the point, or deny there’s a problem (to you or to himself!).
  • That specific example also offers the recipient a way to improve. If you tell a nurse she has poor people skills, that’s not giving her anything she can focus on changing. Pointing out that she neglected to take time to listen to the important information a nursing assistant was sharing is a specific behavior she can change.
  • Let the other person know that you’re not accusing him of intentionally causing problems. He may not be aware of the problem at all. Geoffrey Tumlin, author of , suggests including the phrase, “I know you didn’t intend to…”  As in, “I know you didn’t intend to make those family members defensive, but that is what happened when you dismissed their concerns.”
  • Try not to call someone out in front of her peers.  If she feels cornered or embarrassed, she’s going to react much more negatively. Look for a quiet, private moment to have your conversation. A no-brainer but one that gets forgotten way too often.

As with any leadership skill, this one takes practice and it’s probably not ever going to be a comfortable thing to do. The good news is, the more time you spend focusing on the positive in your community, the less time you will need to spend on the negative!


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