One Size Doesn’t Fit All: How to Approach Negative and Positive Feedback Effectively

Beth Miller |

Negative and Positive Feedback

Positive feedback and praise are easy to give. Everybody loves to hear that they’ve done something right, and managers reap benefits from reinforcing positive behavior. Unfortunately, there is no way to escape negative feedback. Nobody is perfect, and there will be times when team members must correct their behavior. Negative feedback can be difficult to deliver, because managers don’t enjoy playing “bad cop” and many employees certainly don’t enjoy hearing that they’ve done something wrong.

No matter what the situation, negative feedback should always be delivered in a constructive way that helps to motivate employees to succeed and keeps productivity levels high.

Know How Your Feedback Will Be Received

There is no magic formula for delivering negative feedback. Instead, leaders must always take into consideration the fact that every individual is unique. Some people will become instantly defensive when it comes to negative feedback, others will become hurt, yet there are others who seek feedback both positive and negative.

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It is up to the manager to understand the preference of the employee they are addressing, and to consider how the feedback should be delivered so that is heard and understood.

Delivering Negative Feedback

Many managers take the sandwich-style approach to negative feedback. They start off with positives, then lead into the negative, and then finish up with more positive. The problem with this approach is that the negative feedback may have actually been the most important, and bookended positivity can lead to confusion by the employee.

When delivering negative feedback it is important to be direct so that the employee understands the significance of the situation, and will feel a sense of urgency to correct that behavior moving forward. The conversation might start with the manager saying, “We truly value you as an employee, and these are the things that you do to help support the company mission and goals.” At that point, the manager can provide some positive feedback before leading into the negative by saying, “But I have an observation regarding (a specific situation or behavior) that is going to hold you back in the long run.”

From there, the conversation can become about coaching. Ask the employee how that specific behavior impacts others on the team and the organization as a whole. Ask them what they think the cause of the behavior may be and what they will need from leadership in order to correct the problem.

The Most Critical Step in Negative Feedback Delivery

The most important step when delivering negative feedback is to offer support as a manager. Always end the conversation by working out a plan with the employee to help them achieve their goal. When managers say, “Let’s work on this together,” it shows the employee that their success is important, and they are less likely to feel attacked. It also shows team members that leadership is on their side, not only rooting for their success, but taking the necessary steps to help them achieve it.

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Beth Miller

Beth Miller

Beth Armknecht Miller’s passion for learning, and dedication to helping others, are strands woven throughout her distinguished career, which continue to guide her work with Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. As a trusted executive consultant, Vistage Chair, and committed volunteer, Beth holds herself to a rigorous standard of excellence, and she encourages her clients to do the same when pursuing their goals.

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