How to Deliver Negative Feedback at Work

by Sharlyn Lauby | Posted | Performance Management

How to Deliver Negative Feedback at Work

The goal of any negative or corrective feedback conversation is change, not punishment. If employees feel they are being punished then they will assume that they are being "performance managed" out of the organization. That creates disengagement, which impacts performance. To keep the conversation focused on change, all feedback should be specific, timely, and behavioral.

Specific feedback

This refers to the need to understand the expected performance standard and how it relates to the current behavior. Sometimes as much as organizations and individuals feel they've communicated, messages are lost in the process.

Timely feedback

Don't wait to deliver the feedback. Telling someone they did something wrong six months ago doesn't place a priority on fixing the issue. If it's not important to the organization, it won't be important to employees.


This means the focus of the message is on actions, not attitudes. Describing behaviors can be more objective than describing attitudes.

Attitudes can often be misinterpreted, which can quickly derail the feedback conversation.

Five Steps to Delivering Negative Feedback

Don't be disappointed if these steps look like the positive feedback ones - that's intentional. Consistency makes feedback more effective, whether it's positive or negative. The recipient will take the negative feedback conversation seriously if it's consistently delivered in the same thoughtful way as positive feedback.

1. Schedule the conversation

It's okay to give the other person a heads up about the topic. For example, "Hey Leonard, I'd like to talk on Friday about the Jones account." Or set aside time during a regularly scheduled 1:1 meeting. "Jose, let's plan to review your sales numbers at our next meeting." This gives the employee time to prepare.

2. Present the current situation and establish clear expectations

If a third person has first-hand knowledge of the behavior being discussed, make sure they're present. Otherwise, this could turn into a stalemate. Don't assume the employee knows the performance standard. Be prepared to explain it and answer any questions.

3. Identify alternatives, options and needed resources

What makes feedback effective is the two-way dialogue. As the person bringing up this issue or concern, you are sending the message that you're invested in helping the other person solve it. Otherwise, it's simply a directive - "Fix it." While that might be necessary at times, it doesn't always support the goal of changing behavior.

4. Discuss barriers and potential problems that could arise

Spend time doing some brainstorming and problem-solving. The employee might have questions about what they can and can't do to correct the issue. Depending on the situation, it's also possible that the employee will need your help and support to accomplish this change.

5. Agree on a specific course of action along with a follow-up date

Always, always, always follow-up. There are two reasons for this. First, it shows that you care and appreciate them taking the time to listen to your feedback. Second, use the follow-up conversation to find out how the person accomplished the change. This is a proven strategy you can use in the future.

Use Negative Feedback with Positive Intent

Negative feedback shouldn't be punishment or given to simply make someone look bad or feel worse. Negative feedback should be corrective. When you use these steps as a planning tool, it will help the conversation stay focused.

Organizations should educate employees about the most effective ways to deliver feedback during orientation and onboarding. No one should wait until a situation gets frustrating before it's addressed. Create a feedback culture that allows individuals at every level to help each other.

Take The 30-Day Feedback Challenge

Make feedback and recognition a daily habit.

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Cover of the book

Take The 30-Day Feedback Challenge

Make feedback and recognition a daily habit.

Take The Challenge

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