Delivering negative feedback can be a difficult task for all managers – they may not want to be seen as a mean boss, overly harsh, and don’t want to tear down their employees or discourage them. While giving negative feedback can be hard, it’s absolutely essential in order for your employees to improve their work, become more engaged, and be more productive. Employees need this criticism to be able to gauge their progress and receive guidance that will lead them to be more successful in the future.

However, simply giving negative feedback isn’t enough. In many cases, negative feedback is poorly delivered and can make employees feel disengaged, hopeless, and unmotivated to improve. It’s crucial for managers to understand how to effectively communicate negative feedback to their employees in order for them to be the most successful and productive.

In this article, we will be discussing 10 important tips that every manager should consider when giving negative feedback to their employees. Every employee is different, however, and responds differently in every situation, so take a look at this list and see what will work best for you and your employees. 

Tips for Giving Negative Feedback

Decide the Best Time to Deliver Feedback

When giving negative feedback to an employee, timing is important. There are good times to initiate a difficult conversation and definitely bad times as well. For example, delivering negative feedback to an employee in front of other employees should be avoided as it can be an uncomfortable and embarrassing situation for them. This will make employees less responsive to your feedback and can damage their motivation to succeed if they feel like everyone around them views them negatively. Picking a time to discuss when both you and your employee are free to talk personally and privately will allow you both to fully and freely express any thoughts and concerns. 

Additionally, make sure to schedule a time to talk to your employees in a timely manner. After you have reviewed a project, the longer you wait to give them their feedback, the less effective it will be. On the other hand, if you are feeling very strongly about their work, it’s a good idea to wait until you’re feeling more level-headed to give feedback to your employee. In the case where a manager is feeling frustrated or angry with an employee, initiating a difficult conversation too soon may lead to an unproductive and emotionally driven conversation that can do more harm than good. 

Be Direct

It is no doubt a difficult task to give negative feedback. When the time comes, you may want to sugarcoat your feedback, or even leave out certain things; maybe you and the employee are friends, or you don’t want to be seen as harsh and mean. In many cases, what managers end up doing is sandwiching their negative feedback in positive feedback and focusing on what they did well. While providing positive feedback is beneficial, don’t hide your negative feedback, and don’t be afraid to deliver the honest and sometimes harsh truth. At the end of the day, holding back on any negative feedback will only hurt the employee and the organization in the long run, limiting them from their full potential, and giving them a false sense of how they are progressing.

Additionally, this act of feedback sandwiching with tons of false praise can come off as disingenuous and will damage the trust between a manager and an employee. Instead of hiding your negative feedback in positive compliments, start off with your positive comments, and then follow with your honest and direct negative ones.

In order to make sure that your negative feedback is going to be effective, avoid being vague as well. Giving vague feedback just leaves the employee feeling like they did something wrong, but they don’t know they should fix it, or what your expectations are. It will end up causing more stress and possibly even damaging their project or assignment. Be honest and upfront, tell them exactly where they went wrong, and help them understand where they can change and how they can improve. 

Come From a Place of Care

When giving negative feedback to your employees, let them know where you’re coming from; you’re not simply criticizing them to be mean, or only to benefit the company, but because you actually care about them, their growth, and their success. You must communicate these things; don’t expect an employee to assume that your intentions are coming from a caring place. 

How can you let an employee know that your feedback is coming from a place of care and helpfulness? And that you have good intentions? Consider saying things like:

  • “I’m saying this because I believe in you and I want you to succeed…”
  • “This is important to me because I care about the company’s direction as a whole…”
  • “This matters to me because I only want to ensure that we perform well as a team…”

Give Observational Feedback

Similarly, in order for employees to feel less defensive about the criticism, they are receiving, come from a place of observation. you are not personally attacking them, but rather noticing specific things that need to be changed. Here are some examples of things you should not say, and how you can rephrase your words to make your feedback more effective:

Instead of saying: 

  • “You aren’t learning this new software fast enough.”
  • “I think you’re careless and sloppy”

You can say:

  • “I’ve noticed that it’s taking you longer to process claims since we launched this program 6 weeks ago. Let’s talk about how to make things more efficient.”
  • “I noticed that in the email you wrote, there were a few careless mistakes that seemed sloppy.”

These small changes can shift the tone of your feedback immensely and will make your feedback much more effective.

Listen Carefully while Giving Negative Feedback

Listen More

Before asserting your negative feedback onto an employee, make sure you listen to everything they have to say and understand where they are coming from. You must be sure that you have all of the information and have a clear understanding of what they have done in order to understand what they need to improve on. The most meaningful feedback comes from managers who truly understand the employee and the position they are in; what challenges did they face, what other factors may have hindered their progress? These are questions to ask yourself, as a manager, before giving your feedback. 

Practicing empathy as a manager is an important skill. It will allow you to put yourself in your employees’ shoes and understand their difficulties and struggles. You will then be able to better understand what they will need to overcome any of these difficulties. Also, if employees feel that both they and their project are understood by their manager, they will be more receptive to any feedback given.

Focus on the Job, Not the Individual

It is easy for employees to become defensive when given negative feedback on their work, feeling like they are being personally attacked; this makes them less responsive to the feedback and 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 criticizing the person but focusing on the job. Employees receiving feedback should never feel as if they, as a person, are not capable of doing well or improving.

Comments that are directed at a person or vague comments that can be taken offensively should be eliminated from your conversation. For example:

Instead of saying:

  • “You have a bossy attitude and it is negatively affecting the team”

You can say: 

  • “Your team members have voiced that they would like to have more of a say in the decision-making process of the project”

Additionally, in order to direct your feedback solely at the job and not at the person, collect data and numbers to back up what you are saying. Employees will take less offense to any negative feedback when it is supported by numbers; it shows that the feedback is not personal, but the numbers aren’t where they need to be. Saying something such as, “I noticed that your sales are down by 25% this month. Why do you think this happened and what can we do to improve it?”

Explain Why It’s Important 

For negative feedback to be most effective in the long run, employees need to understand why it is important that they make these changes. Otherwise, employees will fix their mistakes this one time because you specifically told them to, but will continue to make the same mistakes in the future. Focus on how the employees work is affecting the others and affecting the company, and why, on a greater scale, it is necessary to make changes. 

For example, say an employee is sending out emails with many typos and an informal tone. If you simply tell them that they need to fix the grammatical errors and change their tone, they will do so for those particular emails but may carry on with the same mistakes in the future. Instead, explain to them that their emails are a reflection of the organization and its values so important to send out error-free emails that represent their professionalism as well. In another example, maybe an employee was falling behind in their individual work; instead of just telling them how they can improve, let them know how them falling behind was also hindering the team. This way they know why it’s not only important for them to make changes, but also important to the team as a whole. 

Tailor Feedback to Each Individual

Each employee is different and will handle different forms of negative feedback better or worse than others. Before constructing your feedback, keep in mind each individual and how to best convey to them your feedback. Maybe one employee is a hard worker and a perfectionist and just needs to be subtly guided in the right direction; maybe another employee is lacking in their performance and needs more direct and structured feedback to lead them to become more successful. 

Create Goals For Them to Improve

Negative feedback will be much more effective when employees are given specific feedback and understand what steps they need to take next in order to improve and be successful in the future. On top of your feedback, give constructive suggestions about what they can do better. Focusing on how the employee can move forward will allow them to stay engaged and motivated, rather than feeling disheartened from the negative feedback with no direction in how to improve. Ask employees thought-provoking questions about where they think they went wrong and what they can do to improve. Help them create goals that will help them succeed and timelines in which they need to complete them. This will give them a clear path to move forward with no confusion. 

Follow Up with Employees

After giving your employee any negative feedback and having discussed ways to improve, it’s important to follow up with them to review their progress. Set up a clear date and time in order to do this; without it, employees won’t feel that they’re being held accountable for their work and can slack off. 

Tips for Giving Negative Feedback

How do You Deliver Negative Feedback? 

Learning how to best give negative feedback to your employees takes practice. It’s not an easy task to have this difficult conversation but it’s absolutely necessary in order for your employee to progress and move forward to success. Each employee will be different and will respond differently to feedback so it will take time to understand each individual and cater your feedback to them.

Have open communication with your employees and ask them what works best for them and how they like to receive feedback.

After doing this, as well as the tips above, your employees will be more responsive and even empowered by negative feedback, and are likely to become engaged and productive in their work.