3pm Friday was when I was taught to deliver criticism “that gives them the weekend to get over it”…

Honestly, I can’t vouch for that logic, but these tips are far more likely to bring a win:win outcome…
Striking a balance between praising good performance, and worthy behaviour, all the while ensuring continuous improvement, can be difficult – especially when “someone needs a rocket” to use one of my Mum’s expressions.
Feedback is about behavioural adjustment, it is not instructional:

  • behaviours are the way in which people act or conduct themselves, especially towards others
  • instructions and process tell people what task to do, or how to do a task

When you give negative feedback, aim to ensure you get a positive change, instead of “the sulks”, or worse. Do it without demotivating or demoralizing anyone, focus on the behaviour not the, task, work, or the person. The ideal outcome is to catalyse an improvement in the behaviour, and to bring out the best in your entire organisation.
Before you say anything:
grumpy boss image

1. Check the issue and re-check whatever it is.

Making sure it isn’t the result of YOUR business process, or YOUR instructions causing, or fuelling, the issue. I have seen research stating “up to 80% of business issues are the result or either poor process or poor instructions”. Make enquiries with several relevant staff members, not only the ones you believe warrant feedback.

2. Never use feedback to vent.

Although it might make you feel better to get your own worries and insecurities off your chest, venting a string of criticisms most often creates resistance and loses you respect.

3. Make negative feedback unusual.

When a work environment becomes filled with criticism and complaint, people stop caring, because they feel whatever they do – they’ll get in trouble. Changes in behaviour are more easily achieved when negative feedback is administered in small doses. If you stockpile several problems, people will become overwhelmed and distracted, unable to process all the points. Feedback is best given real time, or immediately after the fact.
Having now established there is a valid behavioural issue warranting feedback:

4. Don’t email negative feedback.

People who avoid confrontation are often tempted use email as a vehicle for negative feedback. Don’t, keep it simple and personal whilst focusing on the behaviour needed. Face to face discussion is more likely to avoiding a risk of things being misconstrued, and enables open communication and active listening – both assist in working towards a useful outcome, instead of a indignant staff member.

5. Start with an honest compliment.

Compliments start a feedback session on the right footing. Toastmasters have a good approach here they use CRC = Compliment, Recommend, Compliment – this way only a small portion of your interaction is “negative” and the message has time to be absorbed prior to the close of your meeting. Create a foundation for moving into a learning mode.

6. Uncover the root of the problem.

Asking questions such as, “Why do you approach this situation in this way?” or “What was your thought process?” not only provides you perspective, but it can lead other people to uncover their own insights as to how their behaviour might be causing an issue.

7. Ask questions that drive self-evaluation.

Much of the time, people know where they’re having problems and may even have good ideas about how to improve. Asking questions such as “How could we have done better?” and “What do you think could use improvement?” involve both of you in building a shared plan for changes.
PLUS – Remember our own behaviours:

  • Most people can’t learn unless they first feel that they’ve been heard out. Effective feedback requires paying attention and starting from an empathic place.
  • Negative feedback is useless without a model for how to do better. Simply telling the other person what to do or how to do it is usually a waste of time, instead, use coaching methods to achieve change over time.
  • Avoid using exaggerations as it will detract from your message – “always” and “never” are unlikely to be an accurate assessment of the situation.
  • Don’t overly repeat a point once you have made it – nagging will also detract from your message.
  • Follow up – in your diary set a time in a week or so to do a quick check-in around progress and change and this will hopefully provide an opportunity for positive feedback.


If you truly believe that negative feedback can improve performance, be willing to accept it as well as provide it – even go so far as to ASK for it. Few things are more valuable to managers than relevant honest feedback from your employees.

Credit for the basis of this blog goes to Geoffrey James who writes the Sales Source column on Inc.com.


About the Author

Eve Blackall

Eve Blackall the small business answer to The Supernanny.
At Smart Accounting you work one-on-one with Eve who has already assisted hundreds of business owners increase cash-flow, grow profits, and ensuring businesses fetch the highest price when it comes time to sell.