9 Effective Ways to Give Negative Feedback in the Workplace

As most managers know, providing negative feedback to your employees can be a difficult situation to approach. While it’s vital to the success of your business, it can be a sensitive topic that must be handled effectively. When delivered properly, feedback can help improve employee performance, productivity, and motivation. 

Positive feedback focuses on identifying and reinforcing behaviors that contribute to high performance. On the other hand, negative feedback helps identify behaviors associated with an employee’s lack of productivity. 

Feedback is not an excuse to vent and tell your employees what to do and how to do it. The goal of feedback is always about improving employee behaviors and performance for the better of the company and the individual. 

While positive feedback is very straight-forward and easy to deliver, negative feedback is a little trickier but can be extremely effective. Most employers tend to feel uncomfortable delivering feedback for fear of being resented for it. 

Giving negative feedback doesn’t have to be difficult. If you provide the feedback constructively, employees will be more receptive to it. This article will explain how managers can effectively provide negative feedback to their employees to improve employee behavior in the workplace.

Understand the Person Receiving the Feedback 

Everyone reacts to feedback differently. Some individuals are more receptive and understanding, while others are more sensitive and may take it personally. 

Building a strong and positive employee/employer relationship is an important aspect of a successful work environment. The more employees feel they can trust you, the more you will be able to help them reach their full potential. 

As a manager, these unique relationships you build your employees helps you understand how each of them responds to certain situations. Some employees may find negative feedback discouraging and respond defensively, while others may welcome the feedback. 

While the relationships you’ve built with your employees should help these confrontational situations run smoothly, each of them is still going to respond differently. 

Consider delivering the feedback in a way that will benefit that individual. While some employees may become defensive, help them remember that it is not a personal matter and only deliver feedback on their work behaviors and performance. 

Give Negative Feedback in Person

Naturally, some people shy away from even the thought of confrontation. Many people would rather avoid these situations, instead of facing them head-on, due to the fear of potentially hurting someone’s feelings. 

Because negative feedback is uncomfortable for both parties, some managers may think about using email to communicate their concerns.  

To ensure you are conveying your message in the appropriate tone, deliver negative feedback face-to-face. Email creates too many potential issues that could lead to misunderstanding. Communication is key. By utilizing the proper form of communication, you will be able to deliver your message more effectively. 

By no means should any other team members be present when you are delivering negative feedback. The feedback is being given to one individual, so the meeting should be as such. Conduct a private one-on-one meeting in an office or conference room. 

5 Tips for Conducting the Best One-On-One Meetings

Be Honest

Honesty is the best policy when delivering negative feedback. Chances are the employee knows their performance is not up to expectations, so it’s important to be open, honest and transparent.  Don’t sugarcoat poor performance, but also don’t shy away from the negatives.

Be open about their poor performance and demonstrate a willingness to help them overcome their challenges to improve their performance. Employees will be much more receptive to the feedback if you’re honest and actively willing to help. 

Being honest not only helps the situation, but it also helps strengthen the relationships you have built with your employees while influencing positive company culture

Find the Root of the Problem

The reason behind your employee’s lack of motivation could be the result of an issue you may not be aware of. Open communication is your ticket to discovering if there may be a deeper issue to tackle. 

If you can get to the root of the problem, you will be able to offer support to the individual and come up with a plan of action. We all deal with personal issues outside of the office, which unfortunately can have a direct effect on our performance within the workplace. 

Whether it be a personal issue or work-related, offer support to your employees and be sensitive to whatever they are dealing with. Analyzing the situation from their perspective can help you understand how to go about moving forward. 


After initially delivering the negative feedback, offer your employees a chance to speak. Giving feedback effectively means more than just being sensitive in the way you deliver it. Engaged employees want to be heard, so make sure to give them a chance to respond to the feedback. 

Deliver Constructive Criticism 

The best way to present negative feedback is to have a supportive discussion. Constructive criticism is the most effective way to deliver negative feedback because it presents both the problem and the solution. Instead of simply telling employees the actions you are criticizing, explain the implications of their behavior and why improvement is important. 

Before meeting with the employee, create a detailed strategy on how the individual can make necessary improvements and set a clear timeline. Focus your feedback on observed behaviors and not the employee’s attributes and characteristics. Provide specific examples and demonstrate appropriate behavior. Employees are less likely to take constructive criticism personally if you stick to their actions and have a plan to move forward.

Ditch the Sandwich Method 

The “feedback sandwich” is a common method used in the corporate world to take the ease off delivering negative criticism. The negative feedback is given in between positive comments – compliment/criticism/compliment. 

Feedback Sandwich

Picture Source: How to Give A Compliment Sandwich Feedback

Managers may think this method is effective because the conversation starts and ends on a positive note. However, this method can come across as insincere and give employees a false interpretation of their performance.

Sandwiching negative feedback masks the problem with compliments, diluting the message you are trying to convey. People usually remember the last thing you said, so they more than likely will remember the positive comment, not the critique.

This method may leave employees thinking the good outweighs the bad. Present the feedback plainly and honestly followed by a solution.  

Follow Up

You and the employee should agree on a plan for improving their performance. Identify goals and objectives and outline any specific actions employees need to take. If there is something you need to do as a manager (i.e. schedule additional training), ensure it’s included.

Once you and the employee agree on a performance strategy, step back and let them implement the agreed-upon actions. However, you should establish a date and time to review their performance and follow up on any remedial actions.

Follow-ups hold employees accountable and help increase the probability the employee will make the necessary performance improvements. Make sure to recognize employees for implementing the changes effectively.

Moving forward, you may want to schedule weekly check-in meetings with your employees to not only monitor progress but also to ensure feedback becomes routine.

Accept Feedback, too

Feedback should be a two-way street. Managers should show employees they believe negative feedback can improve performance by willingly accepting it from employees. Honest feedback from employees can help you become a better manager. By accepting feedback, you are demonstrating how much it is valued in the workplace.

Employees may be more comfortable receiving negative feedback if they see you are also willing to listen to their feedback and improve your behaviors. 

Few things are more valuable to managers than honest feedback from employees. It’s to be treasured rather than discouraged or ignored. Consider sending out an employee every so often to gather feedback on your employees who are in a higher position. 


Every manager has a unique leadership style. Regardless of the way you choose to manage employees, it’s important to deliver negative feedback constructively. 

Delivering negative feedback doesn’t have to be a bad experience. If presented in the right way, it can be very effective and can help build a sense of trust and openness in the workplace, instead of instilling fear in employees. 

Learning how to effectively deliver negative feedback will help increase employee engagement, productivity and retention rates. By using the strategies mentioned above, you can increase employee performance and guide your employees down a path of success. 

About the author

Corey DoaneCorey Doane is a contributing editor for 365 business tips. She has a B.S in Public Relations from San Jose State University and has experience in PR, marketing and communications.

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