How to Give “Negative Feedback” in a Positive Way

Posted On: February 13, 2015

Are you struggling with how to give this “negative feedback” in a positive or sensitive way that is empathetic, yet encouraging?

While there are many approaches one could take to tackling these kinds of difficult discussions, today I’d like to suggest an approach that works with most people with a bit of forethought.

I suggest to give the feedback by talking about:

  • Something positive related to the negative issue (or as a client recently said “the goodies” – give “the goodies” before “getting to the point”) 
  • The problem at hand  
  • Encouraging buy-in (cooperation) through teamwork and empathy 

A Few Examples:
Situation 1: 
A manager has to give some negative feedback on an unfinished module for a website under development.

Suggested Conversation:
(Positive) While we are on target with finishing module 1, I see some delays in module 2.
(Negative) I understand the skills needed to finish module 2 are still new to most of the team including you, which is delaying our time line.
(Positive) What can I or the team do to help us overcome this skill gap?

Situation 2: 
The manager has to tackle some recent problems with status meetings that have not been up to par. He is concerned that his direct report is facing some difficulty as he has a good track record.

Suggested Conversation:
(Positive) Your track record in handling status update meetings with the client is unmatched. The clients are always very appreciative that the meetings are held on time and all salient points are discussed in a timely way.
(Negative) Of late, the clients have communicated these meetings are not as comprehensive as before. They have been calling me in between meetings to get very simple questions answered. This has been delaying the work getting done in a timely way. This will not impact our bottom line positively.
(Positive) I am worried about this, but more than than, I am concerned about you. Is everything ok? Is there anything I or the team can do to help you?

How You Can Apply This
For many who may be reading this who are not native speakers of English or not familiar with speaking English with native speakers, you may be thinking that this would come naturally to native speakers as this is being done in their first and only language. To this, I respond to you by saying, these are communication skills. A skill means it needs to be practiced and learned. Just like a cricket player needs to practice his technique outside of the game matches, speakers of English (native or non-native) will need to take time to practice and hone these skills before getting into the situations. Over time, this skill of being able to give negative feedback in a positive way will come more naturally, and less practice will be required.

Jennifer Kumar is a business strategy communication coach that will help you virtually (online) or face to face, as an expat career professional working with Americans to communicate more comfortably with your US counterparts. Contact her for more information, or learn about our negotiation or coaching for tech workers program.

Related Posts:
Video tutorials on saying no
Tips for Pushing Back or Negotiating with US Clients
If you’re still unsure how to engage with someone during a difficult discussion, try tips from the coaching world. Read more about “co-creating the relationship.”

Photo by Hybrid on Unsplash


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