How to give Negative Feedback Positively – A CEO’s Guide


Ever since the beginning of 2021, there have been numerous talks about how to give constructive feedback to motivate employees. Managers often hold back negative feedback for fear of hurting motivation. But here’s the thing, to actually motivate your employees, you should give them an unbiased honest review.

How to give Negative Feedback Positively - A CEO's Guide

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Many organizational issues associated with employees actually stem from how they react to management decisions, practices, policies, and feedback they have received. Thus, if you really want to enhance your employee’s productivity and organizational effectiveness, give your employees honest feedback for their work- be it negative or positive.

However, telling someone that their work was not worth it takes a lot of courage, especially when you’re running the organization. Thus, here’s the CEO’s guide on how to give the Honest AKA Negative feedback to employees and how your employees should react to it. 

First things first, let’s know why Giving the correct feedback is important? 

Why giving honest feedback is important 

Various studies reveal that giving correct feedback to employees can show employees you’re invested in their improvement. So, if your organization is struggling with keeping people engaged, maybe this time you need to change your feedback strategies by making them more constructive and honest. A study by Gallup found that employees who receive daily feedback from their managers are likely to be engaged than those who review it once a year. 

This may sound bizarre, but keeping employees engaged by giving them feedback makes a lot of sense. Here’s how. Employees who don’t receive feedback may possibly feel neglected, thinking that their work goes unnoticed. 

Now, let’s discuss how to convey your Honest Feedback to your employees

How to convey your Honest Feedback to your employees

Before giving any feedback, always remember that if poorly delivered, negative feedback can be hard to handle and offer no value to employees. Receiving criticism from a manager is often backed by a lot of uncomfortable conversations and unpleasant experiences. 

A study by HBR finds that 43% of leaders said they found that giving corrective feedback is a “stressful and difficult experience.”

• Don’t beat around the bush

A Survey conducted by Zenger and Folkman found that 72% of respondents believe that their performance would improve if their managers provided corrective feedback.

Thus, the first thing that goes into giving negative feedback is sincerity from your end. People are often aware of their underperformance. Thus, feedback should not be a surprise act, in this case, make it very straightforward and to the point, keep your tone firm and tell employees what was expected from them and what their capabilities are. Make it very clear in the first place that your main purpose is to help the person in improving oneself rather than find a fault.

• Build trust

Trust plays a major role in determining how your employee will react to the feedback. So, if your employee knows that they’ll be called up for receiving the feedback in the future, you’re at an advantage. Building trust does establish not only a positive relationship but also promotes the smooth flow of feedback channels and respect for fellow colleagues. 

• Try to maintain the balance between positives and negatives. 

Always remember that no one is all good or all bad. So, while giving any feedback to any of your employees, keep a balance of all their good and bad deeds. If you’re telling them about the deadline they missed in one month, then bring out the milestone they achieved the other month. Presenting balanced feedback encourages employees to behave positively while considering the pitfalls they need to work through. Your main motive behind giving any feedback is not de-motivating them, so offer some positive points while giving the negative feedback. Now, remember, there should be a balance but not a feedback sandwich where managers often finish the negative feedback session with praise is not appropriate; it can convey a false perspective. A standard framework of compliment/critique/compliment can outweigh the negative feedback and thus will be considered as a successful performance. Avoid doing this; instead, try to maintain a balance between both negative and positive points 

• Too much Harshness can turn Counterproductive.

Believe it or not but delivering feedback that way too harshly can turn counterproductive. Also, if given too frequently and without keeping the regard to feeling, the person standing on the other end will revert to the self-defense mode. This will end up making the employee lose confidence, self-esteem, and motivation.

• Be consistent with your feedback.

It’s really important to be consistent with your feedback because your employee’s reaction to the feedback depends a lot on the frequency of the feedback. If you deliver feedback every month, then even if it is negative one month, the employee would try to turn it positive the other month- without getting demotivated. Depending on the frequency of the feedback, the employee will also have a rough idea of what is coming their way, and they won’t be surprised while receiving the feedback. Consistent feedback also shortens the length of the negative feedback session, giving a little relief to the recipient.

• Try to keep the talk face-to-face.

Feedback, both positive and negative, should always be given while talking face-to-face. This can give a more personalized touch and makes the recipient feel that they are being prioritized. Feedback given on phone calls or emails lacks clarity and prevents the recipient from understanding the body language, thus masking the nuances of the conversation. So, if possible try to avoid delivering feedback on phone calls or emails. 

• Be specific about what are you referring to

While giving negative feedback, managers often find it difficult to convey the exact issue and end up beating around the bush by conveying vague points to the employees; this may de-motivate them. Thus, don’t overgeneralize the feedback or drift from one issue to another. Instead, focus on the main point of the feedback and covey it being specific. 

The secret in giving the Honest Feedback

While giving the correct feedback, both strengths and weaknesses should be communicated clearly and precisely. It should be conveyed in a professional way, keeping everything clear. 

The secret recipe goes in keeping these things in mind.

• When and Where does the behavior occur? 

• What was the behavior?

• Were there any positive or negative outcomes of the behavior? 

• What thoughts, feelings, and actions were triggered by the behavior?

Not only this, make sure that while giving the feedback, you’re not being judgemental, overgeneralizing the situation, and assuming the thoughts behind the situation. Make it clear in the beginning only that you’re giving the feedback to help employees improve.

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Gaurav Sabharwal


Gaurav is the CEO of JOP (Joy of Performing), an OKR and high-performance enabling platform. With almost two decades of experience in building businesses, he knows what it takes to enable high performance within a team and engage them in the business. He supports organizations globally by becoming their growth partner and helping them build high-performing teams by tackling issues like lack of focus, unclear goals, unaligned teams, lack of funding, no continuous improvement framework, etc. He is a Certified OKR Coach and loves to share helpful resources and address common organizational challenges to help drive team performance. Read More

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