Giving negative feedback, a thumbs down on a blue background
Image: Lijphoto/Shutterstock

How to give negative feedback without having a panic attack

11 May 2018

Giving critique may feel like an odious task, but it’s an important facet of working life. If the idea still fills you with dread, these tips could help you navigate a delicate situation with the grace of a gazelle.

Even if you aren’t working as an office manager or heading up a team within your organisation, it’s likely that you will at some point have to give negative feedback to a colleague.

Future Human

It is neither an easy nor enviable position to be in and, personally, the idea of having to dole out critique, even when it’s well meaning and constructive, is nauseating.

It serves an important purpose, however – giving honest feedback, even negative feedback, is integral to employee development.

You may feel like you’re being mean initially, but offering someone advice on where they can improve is doing them a favour and they will likely thank you for it – if you choose your words carefully, that is.

A survey conducted by Zenger Folkman found that, when delivered correctly, 93pc of employees agree that negative feedback is an effective way to improve performance.

So, what is the magic formula to crafting critique so you don’t step on toes and land yourself in conflict and/or a social anxiety tailspin?

Fundera has compiled an infographic detailing some actionable, simple tips for turning a negative feedback session into a positive experience for both parties. It all boils down to being judicious with things such as your phrasing and timing.

For one, keep negative feedback infrequent. For every one negative comment, aim for seven positive reinforcements.

It’s also advisable to give out negative feedback in a timely manner, ideally in real time. Dredging up small mistakes of the past at a formal review will likely only engender stress and resentment in whomever you’re reviewing, and that is (presumably) not your goal.

You should try to be specific and provide examples where possible, as workers will be better able to respond to direction this way.

It is best to give feedback in person, not over email, as it is markedly more difficult to convey tonal nuance over text, and you run the risk of coming off as harsh.

Though it almost goes without saying, try to avoid being sarcastic or using inflammatory language. This will only cause anxiety and upset for the person you’re addressing, and risks taking a valid point and making it feel like a more personalised attack.

For some more advice on giving negative feedback effectively, check out the infographic below.

Infographic: Fundera

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

Loading now, one moment please! Loading