Provide negative feedback constructively

Strategies that can help you provide negative feedback in a respectful, helpful and effective manner. 

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Critiquing is a large part of managerial work. It can help guide workers to better performance and ultimately benefit the whole team. However, when managers give negative feedback, it means identifying other people’s weaknesses and mistakes, and consequently risks making workers feel defensive and unmotivated. This can be difficult for both the person giving the feedback, and the person receiving it.

When providing negative feedback, focus on the overarching aim of the feedback as being constructive, specific and geared toward behavioural change. Doing the following in a respectful way can be helpful:

  • Begin with a clear articulation of the preferred outcome. This can sometimes eliminate the need for negative criticism altogether, as you work toward how the preferred outcome might be achieved.
  • Acknowledge the worker’s efforts, and emphasize that they are a valued member of your team/organization. See Express respect and appreciation for tips and strategies to effectively give positive feedback.
  • Let workers know when they are doing a good job. See Recognition strategies for leaders.
  • Acknowledge an individual’s strengths (as there are always strengths) as well as providing performance feedback. 
  • Make feedback specific to behaviours (not to the individual’s characteristics or personality).
  • Provide clear, concrete examples of behaviours.
  • Give the worker a chance to respond to your feedback.
  • Where appropriate, frame the feedback process as an opportunity for professional growth.
  • Keep in mind that most, if not all, workers will be emotionally triggered by some types of criticism; don’t take this personally. 

Your mood affects others, whether you wish it to or not. Strengthen your relationships by Monitoring your impact on others.

Following are examples of less effective versus more effective ways of giving feedback in response to various behaviours. 

Not following directions

An employee leaves out an important part of a report. You’re surprised, as the two of you discussed the importance of following a set template for reports.

Less effective

You blame the employee for the mistakes, assuming they were being lazy or oppositional. 

“Take it back and do it the way we discussed. When I said we needed to include this part, I meant it.” 

More effective

Give the employee the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume negative intentions. 

“We want all reports to consistently use this template. I’ve noticed you tend to prepare reports with a different template. Is there a reason for this?” 

Irrelevant comments

You ask an employee to stop making irrelevant comments during meetings.

Less effective

You show your frustration and tell the employee to stop their behaviour, but you don’t explain why. You provide no opportunity for the person to understand exactly what’s wrong.

“Could you not ask these kinds of questions during our meetings? It’s annoying.” 

More effective

Give the worker the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume negative intentions.

“I need our meetings to stay focused on the agenda and be productive. When a comment like that is made in meetings [be specific about the comment], it can sidetrack the conversation or take us away from the agenda, which we want to avoid because we only get one hour for every meeting.”

Not meeting expectations

An employee’s written work requires extensive revisions to meet expectations. 

Less effective

Your feedback is vague. You assume the employee can guess what you want.

“This isn’t really what I was after. Please change it.” 

More effective

Your feedback clearly conveys your desired outcomes. 

“I’d like you to emphasize x and y. And, take out z because it’s not the focus of this report.” 


A member of your team misunderstands what she was supposed to do for her part of the project and does something different.

Less effective 

Your criticisms are harsh and inconsiderate. 

“What were you thinking, doing this task using this method? You should know better!” 

More effective

Try to be understanding of the employee.

“I can see why you might think this method applies to this problem. What I would like you to do is...” 

Poor performance

An employee has been on the job for 3 months, and you’ve noticed they do some things poorly. You’d like them to improve their performance.

Less effective

You want to tell them just how incompetent you think they are, so you criticize them the moment you see them next.

“You know, you’ve been here for 3 months already. You should be able to do x, y and z by now.” 

More effective

Set up a meeting. Talk in private to demonstrate respect. Frame the feedback as an opportunity for growth. 

“As the manager, I have the responsibility to help all my staff meet their performance standards. These are x, y, and z. I’ve noticed you do x very well, so I’d like you to keep up the good work. Where you need some improvement is doing y more...”  


An employee is often late for work. You initially give him the benefit of the doubt, but you’re becoming concerned and frustrated and are beginning to think he’s an irresponsible person.

Less effective

You criticize the employee’s character.

“I thought that, since you’re a parent, you’d be more responsible, seeing as how you have to set a good example for your kids.” 

More effective

You criticize the behaviour and give specifics.

“I noticed you’re arriving late about 3 days each week. I know you stay late to make up the time, but that’s a problem because we need you here on time to open.” 

As you might notice, constructive feedback sounds considerably more positive to the listener. It generally can make workers more motivated to accept feedback. When comments are negative in tone and sound more like scolding than guiding, workers can feel disrespected and may be more likely to refrain from changing their behaviour. Always maintaining a constructive approach with workers can help you build mutually respectful working relationships.

Contributors include.articlesDr. Joti SamraMary Ann BayntonWorkplace Strategies team 2007-2021

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