4 strategies for giving a coworker negative feedback without making them cry

Giving negative feedback, when necessary, is important for strengthening connections with your coworkers and direct reports.

That’s because it shows that you’re invested in the relationship and willing to put time and effort into solving the problem, says Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer Carole Robin. What’s more, if you don’t provide any feedback, the behaviour that’s bothering you will likely continue.

Robin spoke with Stanford’s Deborah Petersen about the importance of providing constructive criticism and offered several suggestions for doing it without sounding too harsh.

Give feedback regularly.

It might be tempting to wait until something goes really wrong to pipe up. The problem is that when an employee does finally receive some criticism, she may overestimate its importance and get confused or upset.

Make sure to offer positive and negative feedback on an ongoing basis so she won’t be caught off guard by any one piece of criticism.

Explain why you’re giving the feedback.

Start off the conversation by saying something like, “The reason I am telling you this is…” That shows you’re not just criticising for the sake of being mean or hurtful.

State the impact the negative behaviour has on you and the organisation.

Robin says that “self-disclosure” is an important part of the feedback process. In other words, explain how the person’s negative behaviour is hurting you and/or other employees. When you do that, the person understands that he’s not the only one who’s vulnerable.

Ask what the receiver needs from you.

Giving feedback should be a conversation, not a monologue. Once you’ve explained the problem, make sure that the person hears and understands what you’re saying. Then ask what he’d like you to do in order to help him improve and achieve his full potential.

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