Why Giving Negative Feedback Is Part Of Good Communication

Communication is key to success in any enterprise. In joint ventures and partnerships, in groups, departments and teams, it helps keep the trust and cooperation flowing freely. And when inevitably we also screw up, or see others fall below standards,  good communication skills can help us find our way back to steady ground and improve a floundering performance.

Even with all the automation going on, businesses aren’t run by robots. We work with other people all through out the business life-cycle. We work with people, and people, including us, make mistakes.

We can work with suppliers, designers, landlords, legal advisers and accounting professionals. We can work with partners, co-workers, answer to a board of directors, or shareholders… and still, we work with people.

Sooner or later something will  come to light and show that some of them aren’t performing up to standards with their  duties and responsibilities.  When you’re responsible for talking to them about it, what do you do to address the situation, and how would you do so?

Soft skills when delivering bad news are needed in every area of life where we interact with others. We move in a network of relationships, and for the bulk of the web to work harmoniously then we ourselves need to develop those difficult skills so we can navigate delicate matters without deliberately causing insult or injury.

When it comes to negative feedback, it’s not merely using self-discipline and powering through discomfort to make a point.

  • It’s relating to another person as a human being, and getting the connection to work and help make thinngs better, not bitter.
  • It’s being mature and factual about what is not working, and finding ways and means to resolve the situation and stop the mistakes from happening again.

If you’re practiced acting in a calm, professional manner, negative feedback can be  seen by both sides  as a springboard for analysis and improvement, not an attack on the character or the worth of a person.

People have bad days. They can be having bad weeks, months, and even a bad year. Giving negative feedback can help keep an iffy situation from worsening, and help restore some sort of good to to somebody who is having a bad time. As we help others improve, we can help the whole system get better.

Think of some business scenarios where many people have difficulty in communicating their dissatisfaction about sub-par performance or failing to meet expectations.

  • Telling someone their work has not been up to standard.
  • Conducting peer review, or performance reviews.


One of the areas in which many leaders have problems with is giving negative feedback. Fear of having the feedback taken personally — as something said about the person or their character, instead of the quality of their work or performance. In a litigious society, many people have learned that what they say can be taken and used against them, so they take pains to ensure all t’s are crossed and i’s dotted, to the point where the feedback can be so watered down it’s rendered flat.

When people in your network aren’t performing well, their performance can ripple out to the rest of the group. Giving negative feedback is a needed system check: You say something when you notice it (timely, regular observation) you can ask what happened (investigation) and talk with the people involved to improve it from that point on (discuss and get feedback on how to fix the weak spot.)

What do you need to get things done?
Truth, not hearsay.
A factual record of data regarding the performance or situation in question provides a solid base on which to gauge what the problem is, in what particular area, and even how long and how often it’s been occurring. If someone brought the issue to your attention, ask them what the impact is now and if the situation continues — that way you can gauge the severity and scope of the issue.

A balanced view point
if you’re tired, distracted, busy, or hungry, you won’t be in the best frame of mind to pay the issue the focus that it deserves. Hungry judges make harsher sentences, just saying.


Have a plan in mind for the situation, but of course, include the man on the field’s input on it. Sometimes, all people need to attend to the issue is a chance to vent, and someone who believes in them and is willing to listen.

Don’t rush things just to save time. The faster you assume, the more mistakes you can make.

Timeliness is respect.
It’s also connected to observation, trust and feedback. Real-time observation can help people feel that you’re there to help, and not just oversee, and that you care about them learning to perform well.  If people are scared to tell you that someone’s screwing up, there’s a problem, and you need to find out why they’re hesitant.

Saving up criticism to dump in one go have negative effects.
See, after too much time, the feedback goes stale.  Why did you wait so long? Why tell them this so late when they could have started changing and fixing things earlier?

  • The person in question can also be made to feel like a target. When you do regular check-ins, they become a part of the routine. It’s work. A sudden call to the office feels like being hauled in front of the principal without knowing what you were called in for.


Oddly enough, people are more open to getting negative feedback that having to give it. It may be a small comfort to the person who needs to set the course straight, but then if that’s you, don’t take it personally yourself. You’re not a bad person when you give negative feedback; you’re helping people improve on things they might not be aware of. When you make their job clearer, they make your job easier. It’s paying time and effort into constant improvement.

When you keep giving regular feedback, positive or not,  you become accustomed to the action, and your people will also get used to it. And in many cases they are enabled to prepare themselves and improve their performance. Regular feedback helps  monitor performance and group cohesion. When people are made aware of the areas and places where they’re not meeting expectations, they get the opportunity to improve.

No one like being called out on the carpet. Infrequent feedback leaves too much time for bad habits to set in, and by the time feedback comes, that could cause resentment.

Why would you wait so long to tell them about their performance?
Giving feedback in a timely fashion is simply fair. You give people a chance to notice, examine, and fix their mistake, and not repeat them. Addressing issues in real-time helps people from feeling blindsided.

Feedback is part of coaching and mentoring, a skill especially helpful when you reach that generative stage where you want to help people and teach them what you know. By giving honest, thoughtful feedback, you can encourage people to take  it as a valuable resource and a goal for improvement.

You do not have to show a negative attitude to give negative feedback.

Pointing out the good as setting the foundation for the conversation (or performance review). When the issue of contention is reached, you can always refer to the positive and use the week spots as a starting point for improvement.

Negativity is still painful — we’re hardwired to avoid things that can cause us pain.  People focus more on negative news than positive. On the whole, it can take 3 bits of positive news to make up for one bit of bad news.

Repeatability leads to clarity
Think about it. Give feedback…what do you get in return? You should get a response.  If you get silence after stating your piece, there is no confirmation whether the information was understood, or received with no hard feelings, or  if the person in question would make a change in the pointed out weak areas.

When you give feedback, you must also wait and ask for  receptive feedback.

  • This is what I see about your performance.
  • Can you tell me what I meant/just told you?

Clarification happens, and repeated until it’s understood by both parties what the good parts are, what the focus areas are, and even have work together to come up with an action plan going forward on how to deal — of course, drawing up plans and reporting in on progress is good to make sure the course correction took.

Hardly anyone would like to be the bearer of bad news, but teaching yourself to be fair, timely and thorough when you do, complete with assistance and offers to help,  is a skill that, once learned, will continue to serve you well even in the most trying of times.

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