5 Steps in providing truly constructive feedback

Do you know the best practices of providing negative feedback?

Feedback is ‘an important tool for shaping and fostering learning that will drive better performance...an opportunity for development and career growth’. A recent Bersin by Deloitte report says that organizations achieve a 21% boost in business results when leaders embrace a culture of coaching (1), clearly making feedback the gift that keeps on giving. It’s clear that as a manager or leader, you need to be skilled at providing feedback - and this includes criticism.

Turn the negative into constructive

It’s no surprise that people generally have a much stronger response when negative feedback is provided than positive. It’s human nature to go on the defensive when being criticized, making the situation uncomfortable, perhaps even stressful for all parties involved. But, negative feedback sometimes is required. Here are some steps to encourage negative reports to be delivered in a much more constructive manner:

1. Give feedback often - don’t wait!

Experts agree that a yearly appraisal is the absolute worst time to surprise an employee with negative feedback, and is in no way constructive. If your organization hasn’t started with more regular meetings between managers and their team, the explanation below should be enough to make the switch.

Take the time to think about this and put yourself in an employee's shoes: You only meet with your manager once a year (which can be taxing in itself since you are not used to this type of interaction). Not only this, the annual appraisal focuses on the mistakes or areas that needed improvement from months ago. You won’t be leaving that meeting feeling very inspired or motivated, will you?

It’s recommended to give negative feedback right away, within 24 hours if possible (2). That way, the topic is fresh in both parties’ minds and can be addressed and then it’s done! And here’s an additional tip: keep the feedback focused on the specific business goal at hand. This makes the conversation feel more like an opportunity to solve a problem rather than a straight up critique.

2. Keep it private

This cannot be stressed enough and is the bare minimum when it comes to providing negative feedback (3). Keep it between yourself and the employee at hand. Yet another reason to implement 1-on-1s: have the employee come in for a meeting and keep the situation as routine as possible.

When it comes to praise though, do the exact opposite! For example, during Monday morning meetings or team lunches make positive feedback announcements. This creates a culture of celebrating jobs well done, keeping morale and motivation levels high.

3. Be sensitive

Not only is it important to keep the conversation solely between yourself and the employee in question, you also need to be sensitive and aware of the type of person you currently speaking with.

Just as some employees prefer more or less autonomy on projects, the same goes for how exactly you should deliver negative feedback. Some employees may be prone to shutting down, while others may turn very defensive. So make sure to continuously observe the employee’s behavior during the conversation.

4. Ask questions to create an understanding

A business runs on teamwork and collaboration. And if something goes wrong and the occasion to give negative feedback arises, don’t keep the conversation one-sided. Make sure to ask questions. Turn this situation of mistakes into a learning opportunity for the employee, and for yourself as a manager. Asking questions will also shed light on the team innerworkings - is there something that needs to be adjusted?

It’s also a good idea to record the insights received from a conversation like this. Check out Duuoo’s feature of Private Notes.

5. Focus on the future

The main point of feedback is to move forward, no matter whether the feedback is positive or negative. Whenever it is necessary for a manager to provide negative feedback, it must be constructive. It must be something that the employee can take with them and use by ‘[focusing] on potential future improvements, instead of dwelling on past errors’.

And a focus on the future and development overall is becoming more and more crucial for organizations. The modern employee wants to move forward in their career - and not just in terms of position and salary. Focusing on what can be done better in the future encourages continuous learning and growth (read more on this subject in How to manage the people of today).


  1. ‍https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/behavioral-economics/principles-for-delivering-effective-feedback.html#endnote-3
  2. ‍https://hbr.org/2009/04/feedback-that-works
  3. ‍https://hbr.org/2013/03/the-delicate-art-of-giving-fee


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