How to Give Negative Feedback at Work (With Tips and Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 21, 2022 | Published November 24, 2021

Updated September 21, 2022

Published November 24, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Feedback is essential in the workplace because it helps to improve a team's or individual's performance and often ensures increased productivity. Negative feedback can be difficult to give, but it can also lead to a more efficient team when done correctly. Understanding when and how to give negative feedback can be crucial to your continued success at your job. In this article, we discuss how to give negative feedback at work, explain why it's important to give constructive feedback, and offer examples of ways to give it.

How to give negative feedback

Here's how to give negative feedback at work:

1. Ensure your emotions are in check

Before you can efficiently provide feedback to another person, it's important to ensure that your emotions are in check. When you're upset, frustrated, or experiencing another negative emotion, it can be difficult to provide constructive feedback. You can also ensure that the person you're providing feedback to is in a fairly calm state. This allows them to receive feedback without becoming defensive or dismissive.

Read more: How to Handle Criticism in the Workplace (Step by Step Guide)

2. Give feedback on the particular action and not the individual

When providing negative feedback to another employee or team member, it's critical to concentrate on the particular behaviour you want to change or the specific action you have a problem with instead of the employee as an individual. Concentrating on the actions makes it easier for the employee to get feedback and helps avoid them becoming aggressive or feeling attacked.

For example, instead of saying, "you wrote the service agreement incorrectly," you may say, "the format you used to write the service agreement was incorrect, so let's aim to change that to make sure every new agreement you submit is uniform."

Related: A Guide to Constructive Criticism with Tips and Examples

3. Consider the timing

When it comes to negative feedback, timing is important. By selecting the appropriate time, you ensure that the person receiving the feedback is open to receiving it and may listen to what you want to say. It's also a good idea to let the colleague or employee know what you want to talk about and when you want to talk about it. This gives them ample time to prepare for your meeting.

There are better times to provide constructive feedback than right after a major presentation. Consider scheduling a meeting with them the next day instead. Briefly describe what you hope to discuss with them in the meeting notes so they have time to prepare their answers.

4. Be specific

Aside from being timely, it's critical to ensure that the feedback is as precise as possible. Instead of saying, "you filled out the form improperly," tell your colleague exactly what parts of the form they filled out incorrectly and how they can correct those parts. You can also discuss the consequences of performing the task or acting out the behaviour if they continue to do it incorrectly.

5. Give feedback in a private place

Generally, it's best to give negative feedback privately and not in front of other employees or team members. This may embarrass the employee and cause the feedback to be received poorly. Set up a meeting with the employee in a private setting, such as your desk or a conference room. This demonstrates your appreciation for the employee and encourages them to be more open when reacting to your feedback.

6. Create an action plan

Create a note or action plan that you can share with the other person once you've fully discussed the negative behaviour and the employee understands what they're to do. Set specific performance goals for your team member and the times when they're to achieve those goals. You can include periodic check-ins on the individual's progress once a week or once a month. Include anything else you can do as their superior to assist their behaviour change on the plan or note. For instance, you can implement a new training strategy and include it in the action plan.

Related: How to Write an Action Plan to Help You Achieve Your Goals

7. Inform the person about your follow-up plans

At the end of your conversation with your colleague, set a date and time to check in on their progress and go over the note or action plan you created in the previous step. A critical component of the feedback process is reviewing their progress regularly and providing positive feedback on changes made. It also fosters accountability and increases the chances that your colleague carries out the agreed-upon changes.

Importance of giving negative feedback

Negative feedback is important for a variety of reasons because it:

  • Gives room for the person receiving it to improve

  • Ensures a seamless and productive team by relying on proper communication

  • Can help an employee feel supported and noticed

  • Allows an employee to ask questions

When is the best time to give negative feedback?

When giving negative feedback to your colleague, the timing is very important. It's best not to give feedback in the following situations:

  • During a general meeting. Giving feedback is never easy, but doing so in front of your entire team during a meeting can be inappropriate. Even if the criticism comes to you and it's tempting to respond while the meeting is ongoing, the person is unlikely to truly listen and absorb the information you are trying to convey if you embarrass them in front of their peers.

  • When a colleague is explaining their ideas. Avoid challenging colleagues if you notice a mistake when they are presenting their new idea or system to the team or management. Even if it appears difficult at first, they deserve your full attention and respect.

  • In front of a client or customer. Avoid giving negative feedback in front of a client or customer when your colleague has made a mistake. This can disrupt the meeting and potentially make the client feel uncomfortable.

You can try giving negative feedback in the following situations:

  • During a personal meeting. When meeting with someone personally or behind closed doors, it's usually the best time to give negative feedback. The person may not feel embarrassed because there are no extra people around to hear.

  • During a performance review. You can use performance reviews to provide people with an accurate assessment of their performance. Your constructive criticism is critical in assisting your colleague in improving.

Tips for giving negative feedback

The following tips are helpful when giving negative feedback:

  • Focus on two positive attributes or areas of feedback for every area of criticism when offering negative feedback. This can increase the individual's confidence, allowing them to make any necessary changes.

  • You can write the feedback you want to give on a piece of paper before the meeting. You can refer back to this note throughout the conversation and ensure that you communicate your point precisely and briefly.

  • It's important the solutions and advice that you put into action are succinct. Adding too many items to the list may leave the person unsure of where they can begin to improve.

  • It's crucial to be aware of your tone when giving feedback because it can make you feel vulnerable and emotional. It's more beneficial to remain calm and neutral to ensure that you deliver your feedback to them properly.

Examples of ways to give negative feedback

The following examples can portray the best ways to give negative feedback:

Example 1

Amy has missed a couple of important team meetings. Here is a way to discuss the situation with Amy:

Hello, Amy. I noticed you didn't show up for the last three meetings you were scheduled to be at. Attending these meetings is essential to your job and is compulsory. Is it possible for you to tell me what happened? Let me know if you're having trouble managing your responsibilities. I have some suggestions if it's just a matter of keeping them organized.

A couple of weeks ago, the project leader sent out an invitation to this recurring meeting. Checking your email and schedule periodically throughout the day can help you avoid this situation. I set multiple alarms per day to help notify me to check my calendar for meetings or updates. Do you have everything necessary to solve this problem, or is there something else you might need?"

Example two

Here, Naomi left work earlier than they're supposed to multiple times. Here's a guide to address Naomi:

Hello, Naomi. Human resources notified me this week that you left work early a few times. To fulfill your responsibilities and qualify as a full-time employee, you're to work a total of 40 hours per week. Is there a problem I can help you with? You're usually very conscientious about keeping track of time.

If possible, do you think you can come in a few minutes early to ensure you keep your full-time status if you want to leave early for personal reasons? If this isn't a common occurrence, please keep us informed to assess the situation and determine how to proceed. Let us know if there is something else we could help you with.”

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