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How to Give Negative Feedback

Giving someone bad news or negative feedback is never easy. I’ve known managers to delay, schedule out of town meetings and double-book themselves just to avoid having to take meetings where they have to have difficult conversations. But at the end of the day, the only way to get comfortable with giving negative feedback is to actually do it. As the old adage goes, the more you do it the easier it gets.

Telling a colleague they didn’t get the job or that they are not performing is always hard, but its very important if you want to have an ongoing functional relationship moving forward which isn't marred by tension and negativity.

So here are some tips to handing out the ‘bad news’ that I’ve found useful over the years, which has helped me deal with the situations both professionally and personally.

Before the meeting:

  • Write yourself a script. It can be as simple a dot points on a page. This will remind you of the key issues you have to discuss and help you to keep the conversation focused and professional.

  • Give yourself time to review your script/notes and make changes. If you have a mentor or a senior manager who has some background on the issue, maybe ask then to review your script/dot points.

Before the meeting (face to face feedback):

  • Book a private meeting room. If you don’t have access to a office or private meeting room, find a coffee shop you can go to which is close to work but wont be filled with people from your workplace. The last thing you want is to be giving someone negative feedback in a cafe only to find the office chatterbox decides to pull up a chair and join you.

  • Arrange glasses of water for both of you and have some tissues handy just in case

  • Always assume the person you are talking to will find the meeting difficult. It’s a bonus if they don’t.

Conducting face to face meeting (general feedback):

  • Have water & tissues handy. Don’t rely on a hot drink – neither of you want to scald yourselves by take a sip of burning liquid while you’re trying to keep calm.

  • Prepare to be nervous; it’s fine and shows that you’re human. But remember the other person is going to be more nervous than you so…

  • Use a kind tone of voice. Sometimes when people are uncomfortable and need to make a difficult point they can use a hard tone. Be conscious of this and keep your tone kind.

  • Stick to your script. If you get flustered during the conversation, you've got something to go back to get the conversation back on track.

  • Don’t get sidetracked. If issues are raised that don’t relate to the matter at hand, make a note of them and say that while they are not relevant to this particular conversation you’ll look into it after the meeting.

  • Confirm that the individual is still valued within the organisation, and that there is an opportunity for them to identify where they can improve their skill set to improve.

  • Empathies with them: Say that you understand that it is difficult to get negative feedback. You can say this more than once. Empathetic example comments may be: "I know it's hard to get this type of feedback", "I can hear from your voice that this feedback is upsetting for you and I'm sorry that you're upset", "this is a difficult conversation to have, and I sympathise with what you are feeling".

Conducting the meeting (Recruitment feedback):

  • Remind the candidate about the recruitment criteria that was used to assess each candidate:

  • As position description was written to identify what the role entailed, and was made available to all candidates.

  • All interview questions were based on the position description.

  • Keep the feedback factual but kind. Discuss the reasons why the candidate wasn't successful clearly and gently. One way to do this is to highlight the successful candidates capability and link it to where the unsuccessful person hasn't yet got that skill/knowledge/experience set.

  • Empathies (see above)

Conducting the meeting (Recruitment feedback for internal applicants):

  • Confirm that the individual is still valued within the organisation, and that while they weren't successful in getting this role that there is an opportunity for them to identify where they can improve their skill set so that in the future they can apply for other positions and have a greater likelihood of success.

  • An example of what to say when giving an internal candidate feedback that they didn’t get the job could be:

"Your commitment to the Organisation is not in doubt or in question. I want you to understand that I still value the job you do. I understand how disappointing this feedback may be for you. I hope that when your disappointment feels less painful that you will offer your support to the new staff member as well as to me".

Top Tips:

  • Keep the feedback professional

  • Keep the feedback relevant

  • Write notes before the meeting and then use them as a script.


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