How To Master The Art Of Giving Negative Feedback

Step away from the feedback “sandwich,” stick to the facts, and three other tips to giving good feedback.

How To Master The Art Of Giving Negative Feedback
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When you’re a leader, giving feedback, both positive and negative, comes with the territory. But not everyone is comfortable giving it. Sarah Green, a senior associate editor with the Harvard Business Review, recently scoured HBR’s blog for the site’s best advice for how to give negative feedback. Here are her five tips:


1. Be direct by avoiding the feedback “sandwich.”

Instead of couching criticism with positive feedback (which can dilute the message and sounds insincere), approaching the issue directly and with transparency allows everyone to understand the purpose of the discussion and keep the conversation on track. For example, if a colleague’s presentation style needs improvement, you can approach the conversation by asking if you can provide some feedback. They’ll (most likely) say yes, and will be more open to accepting it.

2. Don’t let criticism accumulate.

By scheduling weekly check-ins with your team, feedback becomes part of the regular routine. “Often managers save up criticism for weeks or months and then pour it out all at once,” says Ethan Rasiel, CEO of Lightspeed Public Relations, a Brooklyn-based firm. “It’s better to provide feedback–positive and negative–in real time,” he says. By giving regular feedback, you’ll become more comfortable giving it, and your team will be more prepared to receive it.

3. Don’t make it personal.

Stick to the facts, and avoid making assumptions. If a direct report is frequently arriving late or missed a deadline, for example, address the behavior with him directly, keeping an open mind. He may have a family emergency or issue you’re not aware of, and confronting the issue head-on will help address the problem instead of letting it fester (or accumulate).

4. Offer praise, but keep it separate from criticism.

Even the most intrinsically motivated among us needs to receive positive feedback every now and then. In fact, studies show that the most effective teams operate at a 5.6 to 1 ratio, with five compliments to every one critique. To ensure your message isn’t diluted, however, keep praise and criticism separate.

5. Be honest, and offer space if appropriate.

If you think the feedback will be difficult to hear, consider giving the person the rest of the afternoon off to process the information. Green points to studies that suggest even top performers are vulnerable to setbacks.

Hat tip: Harvard Business Review


About the author

Lindsay LaVine is a Chicago-based business and lifestyle freelance writer who's worked for NBC and CNN. Her work has appeared online in,,, NBC News, MSNBC, Yahoo, Business Insider, and Fox Business.