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Giving negative feedback positively

If delivering positive feedback does not represent any issues, giving a negative feedback is a completely different story for both the person giving the feedback and the receiver of that negative feedback.

Either as a manager, a spouse or a coach, when the time comes to give a negative feedback, I often worry about hurting the other person’s feelings, coming across as authoritative and not wanting to demotivate or discourage people.

On the other hand, and as a receiver, I tend to perceive feedback as personal criticism and a threat to my self-efficacy and self-worth. You know, when people tell you for example “don’t take it personal” or, “you failed to manage this properly”.

There are different concepts that are useful in the context of constructive feedback giving. For instance:

· Considering emotions and point of view (so, demonstrating empathy) of the person receiving the feedback, or

· Viewing the feedback as an opportunity for growth and learning and instilling a sense of hope and faith in the receiver’s capability for change and improvement (so, have a growth mindset), or

· Identifying and celebrating positive attributes of the receiver’s work or strengths.

Here are a few practical steps to facilitate the process of giving negative feedback in a way that both feedbacker and receiver would perceive as constructive and helpful.

1. Step number 1 – Accept internal discomfort.

If you experience feelings like stress or worry about the idea of critiquing the receiver, you may practice observing and accepting this internal discomfort. For this, take slow, deep breathing directed at these uncomfortable emotions in the body before the feedback session, to allow the emotions to calm down and thus not interfere with the task at hand. The important thing here is to come across calm and composed as emotions can spread from one person to the other.

2. Step number 2 – Create a safe pace

It is not unusual that the person who is about to receive feedback feels nervous and or stressed. You should be aware of this and empathize with the receiver’s position. Also if you can, perhaps you can think of creating a friendly, non-hostile environment. For example, start offering a warm and genuine greeting, offer something to drink, have a bit of an idle chat to break the ice, anyway anything that can help the receiver to be comfortable. This way, your warmth will ease his nerves, which will allow you to be better heard and received.

3. Step number 3 – State your intention

That is a particularly important step, you clarify to the receiver that your goal here is to see how you and he can work together to improve the receiver’s work. The receiver of the feedback should know that you hope it to be a 2-way dialogue, where both parties can express their personal views.

4. Step number 4 : Separate the person’s work from the person.

Arguably one of the things that make receiving feedback the most difficult is that the feedback is often taken as a personal critique. So take a moment to clarify that you are evaluating the receiver’s work and not the receiver himself. For example “the feedback I am providing to you today is not personal feedback, it has everything to do about your work, and not who you are as a person”.

5. Step number 5: Reframe the amount of feedback as an indication of care.

It might be that you have a lot of critical feedback to give, so in these instances, highlight your level of care by saying something like “I’m being thorough here because I care about this. Your work matters to me”.

6. Step number 6: Encourage a growth mindset

Highlight the possibility to view this feedback as an opportunity for growth and learning and integrate this type of language into your comments. Give praise wherever you can and instill a sense of hope and faith in the receivers’ capability for change and improvement.

7. Step number 7: Acknowledge the subjective nature of the situation

Recognize that your feedback projects your personal views and opinions not only on the receiver’s work but on the subject matter. Acknowledge this as you provide feedback by saying things like “In my opinion, “ I believe that…”.

8. Step number 8: End on a positive note

Conclude the feedback session by highlighting and celebrating positive attributes of the receivers’ work. Express your joy in what the receiver did well.


Providing negative feedback does not have to necessarily mean stress and worry. Implementing these practical steps can help you deliver satisfactory feedback session for you as feedbacker and for the receiver.

Based on your experience as a receiver of feedback, what step do you think is more often overlooked by feedbackers?



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