9 Rules for Giving Negative Feedback (plus a Bonus)

1. Always go it alone.

Pulling the “recipient” of negative feedback aside and sticking to one-on-one interactions promotes honesty and openness.

Plus it lets your recipient (and you) save face if the issue is a serious one.

2. Identify your overarching goal: “What I want is…”

Start the conversation on a positive note by letting the recipient know exactly (in no uncertain terms) what you want for them, for the relationship, and for the outcome.

In other words, establish expectations early and revisit them often.

3. Be specific and direct: Just spit it out!

With negative feedback, you’ll be tempted to beat around the bush.

Don’t!

Not only will this indirect approach keep you from addressing the real problem and getting what you want (see #2), it’ll also frustrate your recipient and leave them anxious and uncertain.

4. Support feedback with evidence: The power of “because.”

Building off of #3, remember, you’re not “crafting a case” against your recipient and trying to beat them down with your proof…

But you are presenting facts.

Facts are objective. And (as Robert Cialdini famously pointed out in Influence: Science and Practice) giving people a reason for your request—namely, using the word “because”—drastically improves the rate of response.

5. Separate the issue from the person: Avoid “you” and talk about “it.”

Never go after the person directly. Negative feedback needs to be directed at the problem itself.

It’s all about the pronouns.

6. Sandwich PNP

It might be cliché, but it works!

Using what communication scholars call a “positive-negative-positive feedback chain” has been proven in study after study to not only make for better interpersonal relationships, but to drastically improve results.

7. Frame the problem collaboratively: “Us” not “you.”

Talk about addressing “our” problem and how “we” need to find a solution.

Again, it’s all about the pronouns.

8. Deliver negative feedback promptly: ASAP!

The closer your feedback is to the actual event or issue, the more effective and well-received it’ll be.

Don’t wait. Don’t put it off. Don’t hem and haw (whatever hemming and hawing is).

Go to it… and go to it immediately.

9. Choose clarity over comfort… especially when it comes to consequences.

Let’s face it. Negative feedback is uncomfortable. There’s no getting around it.

But being unclear only makes it worse.

This is all the more true if there’s going to be consequence. Spell out exactly what will happen if the problem isn’t resolved.

In addition to providing clarity, this approach empowers your recipient to take control of the situation. The choice is theirs: “If issue A continues… B will happen. If A is fixed… well then, happy day.”

And the bonus…

To make sure you’re being crystal clear about #2—Identify your overarching goal—follow these two simple steps:

  1. Write it down in a single, first-person sentence.
  2. Run it by someone else (without, of course, using the recipient’s name) and ask them to summarize in their own words what it is you say you want.