Posted by: magnussonllc | August 20, 2009

How to Give Really Tough Feedback

  • He should know better. I shouldn’t have to tell him.
  • It’s just not safe to mention this. He’ll go ballistic.
  • I’m afraid of hurting her feelings.
  • I don’t want to appear controlling.
  • If I tell him, he won’t like me.
  • It won’t make any difference. She’s not going to change.

These excuses are attempts to justify why we don’t give tough feedback. And not one of them is legitimate.The only legitimate reason for withholding feedback is if your intention is to hurt, punish or humiliate the receiver. We sometimes need to give people really tough feedback. Preparing and conducting these feedback meetings in a professional and respectful way is key to maintaining the relationship.


  • Check your past feedback. If you’ve been giving this collegue glowing performance feedback in the past, they’ll understandably be shocked when you give them tough feedback. Look back at your relationship with this person, and if you’ve been sending them overly positive signals, then start changing the signals.
  • Make thorough preparations. What would a win-win situation look like? What are the most essential and crtitical points that need to get across? Do you know all facts? How will you structure the conversation?
  • Ensure privacy. Make it clear that only you will take part in this meeting. Reassure the person that nobody else will be in on what’s happening. Neglecting to do this will make him self-conscious.

 The Six Phases of Tough FeedbackTough Feedback

When giving tough feedback you can identify six different phases:

  • Expectations
  • Message
  • Anger or other emotions
  • Analysis
  • Acceptance
  • Action

Set clear expecations about the content of the meeting. Deliver the message in a short and concise manner. Empathize with emotions. Ask for  thoughts and feelings: ”How do you feel…?”. Give the person time to analyze your feedback. Try to create acceptance  by asking questions. Move forward and decide on actions.

This process could loop several times before the message gets across. The most important objective with this feedback is to get the message through. The objective is NOT to get the person to like you. If they say ”I hate you, but I hear you” then you have succeeded in getting the message across. Don’t expect to be liked when you give tough feedback.

Know you’re going to be emotionally drained afterward. Giving really tough feedback to someone is always emotionally difficult. But being compassionate and treating the person with respect, fairness, and dignity and knowing that you gave the person ample warning and opportunity to improve will at least let you know that the meeting was better in your hands than it might have been in someone else’s.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: