Giving negative feedback can be intimidating, but it’s part of encouraging your team to strive to its full potential. These tips will offer how to communicate negative feedback effectively and how to move forward from a less-than-stellar performance review.

One of the most difficult aspects of being a manager is the necessity of giving negative feedback during a performance evaluation. As challenging as the scenario can be, it doesn’t have to be a discouraging experience. Providing constructive criticism is integral to building a strong team with employees who can rely on you to be honest and supportive. 

Areen Shahbari, CEO of Shahbari Training & Consultancy and instructor of several Harvard Professional & Executive Development leadership courses, says that constructive feedback should be a learning experience for everyone involved.

“Providing feedback is an opportunity for the employee to know how they can improve and grow,” she says. “It is a chance to enhance their skills and capabilities.”

This blog post will offer tips on how to give negative feedback effectively — and how to continue to grow in the future. 

When should you give negative feedback to an employee?

There can be a variety of personal and professional reasons as to why an employee’s performance may be suffering, but it’s important to take notice when problematic patterns seem to be persisting. 

These issues can include multiple missed deadlines, an employee’s lack of attention to detail in their work, or lack of employee initiative. 

Shahbari recommends scheduling time to speak with your employee as soon as you see that their actions begin to negatively impact the quality of the work you and your team do, the services you provide, or people and communities you serve. 

What is the best way to deliver negative feedback in a performance review?

According to Jeremy Sutton, a researcher with a Ph.D. in psychology and physiology of human endurance from Ulster University, in-person conversations are best when delivering negative feedback.  

“A phone call does not convey body language and may mask the nuances of the conversation,” he writes in a Positive Psychology article. “An email may have no apparent context, lack clarity, and land in the person’s inbox like a cartoon bomb waiting to explode when clicked.”

If there was a formal written review prior to the conversation, taking the time to discuss it with your employee afterward will allow your employee to ask questions and clear up any potential confusion.

The following are a few tips for having these conversations: 

Create a safe environment

Make sure both you and your employee have enough time to speak together. For example, a day packed with back-to-back meetings might make both of you feel rushed or unduly stressed.

Hold the conversation in private, such as in your office, and assure your employee that your conversation will be fully confidential so you can both speak openly and honestly with one another.

Don’t make it personal 

When giving negative feedback to an employee, focus on their work, not on their personal character. 

“Don’t confuse the person with their actions,” says Sutton. “Being personal will lead the recipient to shut down. They will be less likely to act on, or learn from, the points shared.”

Be clear and give specific examples about the issues at hand. This will provide more guidance to your employee so they will understand what to improve upon going forward.

Give positive feedback 

Giving positive feedback by pointing out the ways your employee has consistently displayed positive outcomes can not only put them more at ease during a difficult conversation but is also a way of showing your genuine appreciation for them.

“A manager should act as a coach,” says Shahbari. “Pointing out areas of strengths is as important as pointing out areas for improvement.”

Be mindful of your tone and body language

To best communicate your message, ensure your tone is informal and even, and try to avoid judgemental language. Shahbari emphasizes the necessity of communicating directly when giving negative feedback to an employee. 

“You do not want to be aggressive, or passive-aggressive, or avoidant. Being clear regarding what the issue is from your perspective, stating facts and not judgments, showing trust, compassion and empathy, and at the same time being assertive and finding practical ways to solve issues are all important when giving feedback,” she says.


Everyone runs into difficult circumstances or bumps in the road. Allowing the space for your employee to explain their specific circumstances can help make them feel heard and respected. Showing empathy and compassion can also go a long way in building trust. 

Emotional intelligence is an important element of communication. Listening to your employees will give you insight into their personal struggles. Their input should provide guidance in deciding how to move forward or what support you can offer. 

Offer resources or support 

Make it known that if they’re struggling, there are resources and support available to your employee should they need it, such as mental health services if needed. Creating a plan to move forward, including action steps and follow up, can provide positive structure. 

How can you handle an employee’s unexpected reaction to negative feedback?

Receiving negative feedback can be upsetting, and it’s important to remain calm if an employee reacts in an unexpected way. Shahbari encourages self-reflection throughout the experience to keep yourself accountable. 

“If I get a defensive reaction, I will question if my way of delivering the feedback sounded attacking. If so, I will try to rephrase my comments in a neutral tone or I will inquire about how they see things from their perspective,” she said. “I work with people who I trust; I do not attack or judge and if I sound like I am, I will back up and rephrase because judging does not help or contribute to solving the issue.”

Despite your best efforts, an employee may still be distressed and may need some time to process. Be clear and assertive regarding your expectations and give them time to consider potential solutions on which to follow up. 

What are the next steps after giving negative feedback in a performance review? 

A growth mindset, which is defined by psychologist Carol Dweck as the belief that talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and input from others, can go a long way in the aftermath of a negative performance review.

“Organizations that embody a growth mindset … reward employees for important and useful lessons learned, even if a project does not meet its original goals,” writes Dweck in a Harvard Business Review article. “They are committed to the growth of every member, not just in words but in deeds, such as broadly available development and advancement opportunities.”

Make sure to follow up with your employee to check that their goals are being met and they are receiving the support they need to do their best work. 

Practicing your communication style can also help you feel more prepared for next time. 

Why Giving Negative Feedback is Important

Effective feedback is about building up your employees, improving employee performance, and becoming stronger as a team. Though giving negative but honest feedback can initially be difficult to approach, it will get easier with time.

“Initially it was very difficult for me to give constructive feedback without having intense feelings as most of us consider providing feedback as conflict,” said Shahbari. “Now I do not perceive it as creating conflict, but as an opportunity to erase tension and work better together. It is all about the trust you build and how you deliver the feedback that makes all the difference.”