How To Give Negative Feedback: Steps and Tips

By Indeed Editorial Team

March 11, 2021

Feedback is an important component of being a manager and works to strengthen a team or employee's performance and ensure behavior changes are made to promote productivity. There are two primary types of feedback: negative and positive feedback. In this article, we'll be discussing what negative feedback is, why it's important, steps you can take to effectively give negative feedback and tips to keep in mind when offering this type of feedback to an employee.

What is negative feedback?

Negative feedback, sometimes referred to as constructive feedback, is feedback given to an employee that is focused on pinpointing behaviors that need to be changed to prevent issues or low performance. The goal of negative feedback is to help an employee change their behavior to increase productivity and performance in the workplace. To be effective, negative feedback should focus on specific behavior and be given quickly after the behavior has occurred.

For example, if an employee submits a contract incorrectly, the manager should immediately speak with the employee as soon as they receive the contract rather than waiting several days or weeks to address the issue.

Negative feedback is a powerful tool that a supervisor, team leader or manager can use to enhance workplace productivity. While this type of feedback is often uncomfortable for managers to give, many employees will appreciate and even want constructive feedback from their superiors. Delivering negative feedback effectively benefits both the employee and manager and can strengthen the relationship and trust between the two.

Related: Best Practices for Giving Constructive Feedback

What is the importance of giving negative feedback?

There are several reasons negative feedback is important. The primary reasons include that it:

  • Can enhance employee performance

  • Improves a manager's leadership skills

  • Ensures employees understand the expectations the company or manager has of them

  • Helps employees feel supported and cared about in the workplace

  • Allows employees to ask questions for clarification

  • Strengthens employees' ability to perform their work

Read more: The Importance of Giving Employees Constructive Feedback (With Examples and Tips)

How to give negative feedback

The following are steps you can take when delivering constructive feedback to an employee:

1. Ensure your emotions are stable and under control

Before you can effectively give feedback to someone else, you must first make sure that your emotions are under control. It can be difficult and even impossible to deliver constructive feedback if you are feeling upset, angry or another negative emotion. You should also make sure the person you're giving feedback to is in a relatively calm state. This will make it easier for them to receive feedback without getting defensive.

2. Deliver the negative feedback in a private area

You should never give constructive feedback to an employee in front of other employees or team members. This can embarrass the employee and result in the feedback not being well received. Schedule a time to meet with the employee in a private location such as your office or a conference room. Doing so will show your respect for the employee and encourage them to be more open when responding to your feedback.

3. Give feedback that is centered on the behavior, not the person

When giving negative feedback to an employee or team member, it's important to keep the focus on the specific behavior you want to change rather than the employee as a person. Focusing on the behavior makes it easier for the employee to receive the feedback and can help prevent them from becoming defensive or feeling as if they are being attacked. For example, rather than saying "you wrote the contract incorrectly," you could say, "the format you used to write the contract was incorrect, so let's focus on changing that format to ensure every contract you submit is accurate."

Related: 16 Ways To Improve Your Feedback Skills in the Workplace

4. Skip the superficial comments

Some managers or supervisors will begin a conversation about negative feedback with superficial statements or unnecessary compliments. This is typically done because the manager believes this will make it easier for the employee to receive the negative feedback. However, appearing superficial will ultimately work against the manager or supervisor rather than for them. Focus on the truth when giving constructive feedback and be as genuine, helpful and vulnerable as possible. This will encourage the employee to respond similarly.

5. Make sure the feedback is timely

Your timing is important when it comes to administering negative feedback. It's important to offer feedback as soon as possible after the behavior you want to change has occurred. This will help to encourage the employee to start taking action immediately and can also make the feedback feel less severe than if you were to wait several days or weeks to discuss an incident.

6. Keep your feedback specific

Besides being timely, you should also make sure the feedback is as specific as possible. For example, rather than saying "you filled out the form incorrectly," tell the employee exactly what parts of the form they did incorrectly and how they can correct those parts. You can also mention the implications that performing the task or enacting the behavior will have if it continues to be done incorrectly.

Related: 8 Tips for Giving Useful Performance Feedback (With Examples)

7. Stay calm

Giving constructive feedback can be a challenging situation, especially if the behavior being discussed is severe or the employee is responding defensively. However, it's important to remain calm no matter how upset you may feel. Losing your temper will only hurt the situation and could result in the employee refusing to change their behavior or not receiving constructive feedback well.

8. Allow the employee to respond

You should give constructive feedback in the form of a conversation. This means that once you've explained the behavior and the changes that need to be made, you should also allow the employee the opportunity to respond and express any concerns or ask questions. This shows that you value the employee's time and opinions and that you are willing to listen to their side of things.

9. Create a note or action plan

Once you'd fully discussed the problem behavior and the employee understands what is expected of them, create a note or action plan that both you and the employee will share. Come up with specific performance goals for the employee and times in which they should reach those goals. You can also include incremental times in which you'll check on the employee's progress, such as once a week or once a month.

Additionally, if there is something you need to do as their manager to support their behavior change, include that on the plan or note as well. For example, if you need to implement a new training strategy, be sure to put that in the agreement.

10. Determine when you will follow up with the employee

At the end of your meeting with the employee, decide on a date and time in which you will follow-up on the employee's progress and review the note or action plan created in the previous step. Regularly reviewing the employee's improvement and providing positive feedback on changes made is an important component of the feedback process. It also creates a sense of accountability and increases the likelihood that the employee will follow through on making the agreed-upon behaviors.

Related: 4 Ways Feedback Improves Performance in the Workplace

Tips for giving negative feedback

The following are tips to keep in mind when giving your employees or team members constructive feedback:

  • Tailor your feedback to the employee: Everyone receives feedback differently, so it's important to offer negative feedback in a way that most successfully impacts each employee.

  • Be clear and direct: It's important to ensure the employee you're giving negative feedback fully understands what's being said and what is expected of them. Say your feedback clearly and directly and follow-up with an email with the most important points if necessary.

  • Don't forget about positive feedback: Positive feedback is just as important as negative feedback and can help keep employees encouraged, even if they've recently received constructive feedback. Set aside time to give each employee only positive feedback regularly, such as once a month or quarterly.

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