How to give negative feedback

The Importance of Effective Negative Feedback by Violet Dhu

As Bill Gates once put it, “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”

Negative Feedback is when you give valuable comments or observation-based suggestions to the other person to give him or her ideas and information that can be used for improvement. It is information about how they are doing in relation to reaching a standard, meeting expectations, or working towards a goal.

Research tells us that employees often feel unappreciated, and they consistently report that they have not received helpful and constructive feedback on how they could improve their performance. They are in the dark as to how they are going in terms of their performance.

Giving feedback is a vital skill for any manager or leader to master. And negative feedback is hard to handle and often avoided. It is indeed one of those difficult conversations. If the negative feedback is delivered poorly, or inappropriately, it can be unhelpful, destructive and it may affect the relationship between the two people. Nonetheless, negative feedback is an important tool to increase productivity and efficiency and to engage and support staff.

The costs of not giving effective negative feedback are significant and include:


  • you will think that your actions are acceptable
  • you will be unaware of the need to improve or change
  • you will have inaccurate perceptions of how your performance is regarded by others
  • you will be less likely to be offered development opportunities
  • you will be deprived of chance to improve your own performance and become the best you can
  • your long term career or employment may be negatively affected because of not receiving effective feedback

Business or Team

  • your team will not have the best productivity or performance
  • others may lower their performance because they see someone not pulling their weight
  • clients may have a negative impression of your company if they have a negative interaction with a poor performing team member
  • the team’s creativity will be stifled as others will hold back due to the culture of poor feedback and lack of appreciation

You as the Leader/Manager

  • you will worry about what to do with an underperforming staff member.
  • your avoidance or reluctance to give negative feedback may result in a loss of respect from other staff.
  • soft coating or giving negative feedback with cotton gloves on may not have an impact and you do not see the change you expect
  • your ability to lead and manage will be diluted

So negative feedback is a conversation that managers and leaders need to learn to manage. Effective negative feedback is a skill and when done well results in respect, clarity of roles, better understanding, and increased trust between team members and leaders. Please do not avoid negative feedback conversations and please develop the skills to handle them effectively and confidently.

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