Global HR 11 min

How to deliver negative feedback: benefits, steps, and tips

Written by Barbara Matthews
June 14, 2024
Barbara Matthews


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If you’ve ever wondered how to give an employee negative feedback in a productive way that inspires growth, you’re not alone. Even the most experienced leaders often dread these conversations. 

And this is understandable. When done poorly, giving negative feedback can lead to hurt feelings, arguments, or even the loss of an employee.

Yet, avoiding discussion around areas that need improvement isn’t helpful. So, think of negative feedback as not a means for criticism but a powerful tool for professional growth, improvement, and realignment.

In this article, we provide clear steps to help you deliver critical feedback in a positive way. We also use our expertise in remote work to give you pro tips on how to offer this feedback in a remote environment.

Why is delivering negative feedback important? 

Delivering honest feedback is an integral part of managing remote employees. Despite the possible discomfort involved, the benefits of providing constructive criticism extend far beyond one conversation.

Various skills enhanced by feedback

Growth and improvement

Feedback serves as a reality check. It offers recipients a mirror through which they can see how others perceive their work and behavior. 

External perspective is invaluable — it reveals blind spots and growth opportunities that the person might not have been aware of. 

Over time, receiving feedback and acting on it can lead to better resilience. It teaches team members how to navigate criticism constructively. And ideally, it leads to a growth mindset where challenges are seen not as failures but as opportunities to learn.

Skill enhancement

Good feedback is specific. It highlights the exact areas that need improvement. As employees become aware of these weak spots, they step up and focus on developing their skill sets.

For example, feedback may inform an employee that they need to:

  • Master a new software 

  • Improve their presentation skills

  • Develop better project management techniques

Targeted insights allow employees to focus on the areas that need the most work. Not only does this help them as an individual, but the team and organization also benefit from their team member's growth.

Team dynamics

Feedback shapes organizational culture. It contributes to an atmosphere where employees feel valued and motivated to improve, and they know leadership genuinely wants the best for them. 

For example, a manager may skip placing blame and openly share that mistakes are happening in a rush to meet deadlines. That feedback points out a weakness but allows the team to rise and conquer it. This type of culture engages employees and reduces turnover rates. 

Feedback can also help employees feel more engaged in the workplace, even when working remotely. In fact, 80% of employees who receive meaningful feedback feel fully engaged regardless of days spent working outside the office.

Behavioral adjustments

Negative feedback is needed for addressing disruptive behaviors that harm team dynamics or productivity. For instance, poor time management by one team member can mess up the entire team’s workflow.

Delivering feedback that doesn’t make employees feel defensive and encourages reflection can encourage positive change.

How to deliver negative feedback in an effective way

Employees are 63% more likely to leave an organization that gave low-quality feedback. 50% of respondents also say that feedback needs to be actionable for it to be effective.

So here are tips for you to deliver effective feedback to your team in a way that’s motivating and actionable.

Steps to deliver negative feedback

1. Prepare and plan

Before you sit down for the conversation, gather evidence and examples that support your feedback. 

Don’t just identify areas for improvement — envision the outcome you’d like from the discussion and how it aligns with the team’s objectives.

Try to anticipate how the team member might respond. For example, have a plan in place for how to deal with a negative employee after a bad performance review.

You can outline your talking points or practice your delivery in your head ahead of time. Just be sure the session ends with you finding a solution. 

You do not need to worry if conflict arises from the feedback you offer, as you can resolve conflict in many ways.

2. Choose the right setting

The environment where you deliver feedback influences how that feedback is received. Opt for private and comfortable setting. You want to respect your employee and encourage them to be open and receptive. 

Pick a suitable time, too. For example, you might want to avoid doing it later in the day or right before the weekend as employees might be less focused on work as they wrap up their workday or work week. 

3. Begin on a positive note

Start the conversation on a positive note to create a warm atmosphere. This shouldn’t feel forced or insincere; just communicate their value to the team.

You’re doing this so your team members understand that the feedback is directed more toward their growth and success. People are more open to growth in comfortable settings.

Offer positive feedback that is specific and personally tailored to the employee. Keep it brief — going overboard can make positive feedback seem insincere. You can also connect your positive opening to the growth you’ll discuss later in the conversation.

4. Be specific and objective

Clear feedback is key. Don’t use vague language or generalizations. Instead, include specific examples and instances where the employee can improve. Framing your feedback as “I” statements helps prevent feedback from seeming like blame.

Precision helps the employee understand the exact behaviors or outcomes that aren’t meeting expectations. Discussing the impact of their actions on the team or project illustrates why change is necessary. 

For example, instead of “you need to be more proactive in meetings,” try “in the last three meetings, I noticed you haven’t shared insights or asked questions. Your input is valuable and could help us identify issues earlier.”

5. Focus on the issue, not the person

Avoid commenting on the personal traits of your team member. Your feedback should be comments on their actions instead.

Frame your feedback on specific behaviors and results. Don’t use charged or judgmental words that could be taken personally.

For example, "you’re always so disorganized. It’s affecting the team negatively” can seem like a personal attack. Instead, use phrases like “I’ve noticed the last few deadlines were missed because tasks weren’t tracked effectively. Let’s explore some project management tools that could help keep us organized.”

6. Encourage dialogue

Feedback shouldn’t be one-sided. Make your feedback session a conversation to help your employees grow. Encourage your employee to respond to the feedback and share their perspective. 

This is where active listening becomes important. Ask them open-ended questions to give them space to talk. Then, listen with full awareness, summarizing their points to ensure understanding. 

In most cases, there are valid reasons behind your team member's actions. By giving them a voice, you can get to the root cause of the problem together.

7. Offer solutions and support

Pointing out what’s wrong isn’t as important as working together to make it right. Offer your employees concrete suggestions for improvement. Let them know how you’re ready to support them in these actions. 

Support includes training, resources, and time to adjust. For example, if a team member needs to improve their presentation skills, offer to review their slides before the next meeting. You can also give financial support for your employees to attend a workshop.

Feedback is aimed at improving performance. Unfortunately, you may still need to terminate an agreement with an employee. Make sure you take professional steps when you need to terminate an employee.

8. Make a follow-up plan

Regular check-ins down the road are important for discussing progress and tackling any new challenges that may arise. 

Set a clear plan for follow-up meetings to continue the conversation. The employee should have clear, achievable goals. They should have deadlines and specific ways to measure progress. 

You can use a shared document or tool to track action items and keep both sides accountable. Celebrate any wins, big or small, to motivate the employee to continue improving.

9 tips for giving negative feedback in a remote work environment 

Sometimes, feedback doesn’t take place in an office but over a virtual call. In this section, we give specific suggestions for offering your feedback remotely.

Tips on remote negative feedback

1. Optimize video calls

When video calls are necessary, make them count. Video calls help you pick up on your employee's visual cues, so you can offer constructive feedback. They also make the meeting more personal. Keep your calls concise, and set a concrete time limit. 

For simpler issues or ongoing feedback, you can incorporate email or instant messaging.

2. Schedule considerately

Use scheduling tools to find convenient times for everyone across different time zones. World Time Buddy or Google Calendar’s world clock can help.

Before you schedule the meeting, do a quick check-in with the employee to see what time would work for them. You can also offer multiple time slots for them to choose from. 

Showing empathy and respect for your team member sets you up for success in offering them constructive feedback.

3. Prepare for technical issues

Be prepared for technical problems. Quickly test your setup before the meeting to avoid delays.

If something goes wrong, switch to another conferencing platform or turn to a phone call if possible. If a primary internet connection fails, provide a quick guide on how to set up a mobile hotspot. For very important meetings, you can ask for support from your IT team if any technical issues pop up.

4. Communicate clearly and concisely

For clear and consistent communication, use a template for all feedback sessions. A template helps you cover the necessary points and keeps feedback sessions unbiased.

Visual aids, like slides or documents, could also underline key points of the session. 

Avoid jargon and phrases that could get lost in translation. Encourage the employee to vocalize their understanding of what you said.

5. Follow up with a clear email summary

Promptly send a summary of the feedback session once it’s done. A summary can include key points discussed, possible action items going forward, and any applicable deadlines.

Showing exactly what you’re referring to through a screenshot can clarify your points and make your feedback more tangible.

Manager sends follow-up email

7. Use collaborative tools effectively

Integrate shared documents and tracking tools into your feedback process. Use platforms like Google Docs or Sheets for real-time collaboration. Not only are these tools free, but they also include commenting and suggesting functions.

You can use a virtual whiteboard for real-time collaboration during feedback sessions. Plus, you can gamify elements in your improvement plan, such as giving out badges for completed actions.

8. Employ flexible follow-up methods

Be flexible when delivering feedback in remote work environments. Offer a variety of follow-up methods for different preferences and schedules.

Follow-ups can include email summaries, shared online documents, and personal video messages.

You can schedule casual virtual meet-ups where feedback can be discussed in a relaxed setting. Another option is to pair up team members for support and a fresh perspective.

9. Publicly recognize improvements

Public acknowledgment is a powerful motivator. It reinforces a culture of growth and pride in the team. Celebrating a person's wins can keep other team members engaged and motivated as well.

To highlight accomplishments, you can create a “Wall of Fame” on your company’s social media pages or host a virtual awards ceremony. Plus, you can organize workshops where employees share their improvements and strategies with others.

Track your feedback with Remote

Knowing how to deliver negative feedback — especially remotely — involves more than courage. It requires strategy, empathy, and an understanding of your team’s dynamics. 

Remote HR Management helps you deliver constructive feedback to your global team, all in one place. You can track data from performance reviews and manage employee data from a single platform.

Contact Remote today to learn how we can help you manage your global team.

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