Very few of us enjoy providing negative feedback to others… including our coworkers. It’s uncomfortable. It’s potentially hurtful. And it’s difficult to deliver well.
That being said, being willing to provide and receive negative feedback is critical to participating in a company and team that continues to evolve and progress. Without pointing out deficiencies, weaknesses, or blind spots in a workflow, project, or work performance, there can be no resolution and improvement.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how to constructively provide negative feedback to a coworker without damaging or destroying your relationship – resulting in a stronger company, and ultimately, a more unified team.
The dangerous consequences of NOT providing negative feedback
When you notice a weakness, detrimental habit, or poor practice in a coworker, it may still feel easier to ignore the problem than to address it upfront.
But passing up the opportunity to provide negative feedback can ultimately have far more damaging consequences than the discomfort caused by a potentially tense conversation.
Here are just a few dangerous consequences of letting poor work habits, bad attitudes, or weak spots go unchecked:
- Toxic work relationships.
If a coworker is engaging in gossip, backstabbing, or passive-aggressiveness, this can quickly turn to a toxic work relationship – which will ultimately damage team performance, and even cause employee turnover.
- Poor workflows.
When a coworker is unintentionally contributing to an inefficient workflow through poor habits or lack of accountability, the company suffers. Missed deadlines, lack of administrative efficiency, and poor use of time and resources are just a few potential outcomes.
- Missed profits.
A company is most profitable when it’s most efficient, innovative, and healthy. And efficiency, innovation, and health are produced by willingness to adapt, change, and resolve weaknesses.
- Lack of personal development.
Finally, coworkers miss out on valuable opportunities to grow as professionals when you don’t provide them critical feedback (and actionable steps to improve).
In short, providing negative feedback is sometimes necessary to ensure the success of a company, team, and individual.
Next, we’ll cover different situations in which you might provide negative feedback…and situations where you might want to keep feedback to yourself.
Types of negative feedback
Here are some situations in which negative feedback may be necessary:
- Unhelpful behavior or a bad attitude.
- Poor time management.
- Underperformance in a specific area.
- Confusing or mixed communication.
- Lack of preparation for meetings, presentations, etc.
- Lack of willingness to be a team player.
While all of these behaviors or habits can be modified, there may be situations in which a practice or habit can’t be modified.
Here are some situations in which negative feedback may not be constructive:
- A lack of natural skill or ability, such as public speaking or quality of writing.
- A communication style that’s the result of culture, language, or background.
- A personality quirk.
- A deficiency due to lack of experience.
When considering negative feedback, ask yourself this first: Is there a simple solution to the perceived problem, or is it the result of natural factors that may not be modified?
9 tips to deliver feedback well
First, let’s address the issue of the role: if you’re not in a managerial position over a coworker but you’d like to provide negative feedback, take steps to ensure the situation is appropriate for providing feedback. Depending on the culture of your team, feedback may be easily welcomed…or uncomfortably received.
Using a feedback system like Nailted can help to establish both positive and negative feedback as a regular part of company workflows and culture. Nailted provides employees an accessible, convenient channel for providing feedback to one another and to management – making the act of feedback a natural and expected part of a professional setting.
That being said, there are certain things to keep in mind when delivering feedback verbally. To produce the best possible outcome from a conversation, consider the following:
1. Be specific
Don’t be vague when providing negative feedback. Instead of making a generalization about a coworker (“You’re a poor communicator”), point to a specific incident that could have gone differently (“It was unclear what you were trying to communicate in Tuesday’s meeting.”) This helps your coworker think specifically about what can be improved and helps them from getting defensive.
2. “I” over “you”
To avoid putting your coworker on the defense, seek to use “I” and “We” more than “You.” (“I noticed that I often receive paperwork a couple days late from you,” rather than “You always turn in paperwork late.”)
3. Choose an appropriate setting
Don’t confront a coworker in front of other people. Choose a quiet, private setting to provide your constructive feedback to avoid shaming them in front of others.
4. Be prompt
If a specific incident tipped you off to provide negative feedback, don’t wait weeks (or months) to say something. Be prompt in your response so that the situation remains fresh and relevant.
5. Refer to impact
Pointing to the particular impact of a bad habit, poor attitude, or other weak spot can help a coworker to see how their behavior is damaging team performance. For example, if a coworker is struggling to meet deadlines, you can point to the ultimate outcome of this lack of timeliness. (“When you miss turning in Draft 1 on time, it pushes back our entire timeline and ultimately, has a poor effect on client relationship.”)
6. Be constructive
Are you providing a resolution to a perceived weakness or deficiency? Suggest how a coworker might improve their behavior with actionable steps, worded gently (“You could…”, “I might try to….”, “Let’s try to…”)
7. Consider the relationship
Is this coworker a superior or manager? Or are they just being onboarded to your team? Consider the dynamics between your roles, and approach them appropriately and accordingly (i.e. if the coworker holds a superior role, make an effort to be humble and teachable during this interaction).
8. Strive for collaboration
Make every effort to avoid an attitude of arrogance or superiority. Take the attitude of collaboration (“Can we design a new workflow that helps us all to better meet deadlines?” or “Is there anything that can be taken off your plate so that you’re better equipped to meet deadlines?”)
9. Keep it conversational
Finally, take a deep breath and keep it friendly and conversational. A moment of constructive feedback – even negative feedback – can ultimately bring greater unity to a relationship and a team, if delivered correctly and empathetically.
Building a stronger, more unified team through feedback
Is giving negative feedback challenging and uncomfortable? Of course, it is! Is it worth it? Absolutely.
As mentioned above, providing and receiving negative feedback is critical to building a team culture that continually strives to evolve and progress. Negative feedback refuses to comply with apathy or the status quo. It ultimately communicates “We can do better.” Providing negative feedback should also teach you to receive negative feedback. Surely, you also have blind spots and weaknesses as a professional. And we encourage you to invite your coworkers to point those out.
At the end of the day, feedback – both positive and negative – ultimately helps to build a stronger, more unified team. It prevents cyclical toxicity in terms of relationships, communication, and workflows. It helps everyone to work more efficiently. And it creates room for a greater level of trust and honesty – two cultural hallmarks of a company that cares for its employees, values excellence, and aims to create a healthy, thriving work culture.