How to give negative feedback

Have you ever felt uncomfortable giving negative feedback? For some, delivering critical feedback triggers childhood memories when their own behaviour was harshly criticised; leading them to avoid situations where they may upset others. Other people sidestep the difficult feedback as they place a high value on being liked.

Ultimately to be effective and to help your team grow, critiquing performance is a skill you need to learn. The following three steps will help you communicate in a constructive way and help ensure your message lands in the way you intended.

How well is this serving you?

If you’re hesitating ask yourself – how well is this serving me now and how well will it serve me long term? Not giving critical feedback may well help you avoid immediate discomfort. Medium to long term you’ll be able to see how you’re doing your colleague a disservice by not affording them the opportunity to learn and develop. In addition to this, staying silent will lead to your frustration growing leading to the possibility of the relationship deteriorating and tensions increasing.

How are you showing up?

How you turn up at a meeting matters. This is something we overlook at our peril. Our physiology, tone of voice and body language matter and helps create an emotional safety net when delivering tough messages. I was coaching a client recently on giving critical feedback. He became aware that when giving negative feedback he was tense, frowning and used a harsher voice. He recognised that this immediately set his colleague on edge and created an atmosphere of tension. By becoming more aware of how he showed up, he created a whole different mood music which led to a more open dialogue and a more comfortable environment to discuss shortcomings.

Emotional Regulation

Before entering a conversation you’re uncomfortable with, try the following. Take three deep intentional breaths – breathing in for 4 counts, hold for 7 and exhale for 8. This will slow down your breathing, relax your body and reduce your stress levels. Set an intention before you engage – for example to be both assertive and empathetic. As energy follows attention, this will guide the conversation in a more graceful manner and help you stay on track. Finally, anticipate when you might get triggered in the conversation.  When this happens pause. This space will give you options allowing you to respond instead of reacting in automatic pilot mode.


By letting your team know the importance of feedback and delivering it in a safe non-threatening way, you’ll be role modelling the behaviours that you want them to demonstrate to their team. You’ll create a culture of trust and transparency and empower your team to maximise their potential.

About the author

Laura McGrath is an Executive Coach with a background in executive search and career coaching. She has a post graduate qualification in Executive Coaching from the IMI and has been a guest lecturer with Trinity College Dublin and TU Dublin. For more information call 087 669 1192.

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