How To Give Negative Feedback

How To Give Negative Feedback

Workplace challenge #274: how to tell a colleague that what they have done isn’t up to scratch. The best approach? Focus on giving advice on small issues before they expand into major problems.

Feedback picture from Shutterstock

MongoDB cofounder Dwight Merriman offered up that advice in an interview with the New York Times:

I think one tactic is just to have lots of small conversations so that they don’t become elephants in the room.

Merriman also suggests using email for small pieces of feedback, which can avoid the awkwardness of face-to-face confrontation. Just be sure to phrase your comments carefully.

Dwight Merriman of MongoDB on Leading by Enthusiasm [New York Times via via Business Insider]


  • If you work for Lifehacker, you could also publish articles like this as a subtle hint to your underlings. Er, hang on a minute…

  • I use the Shit Sandwich method. Positive feedback, negative feedback, positive feedback. e.g “Smith, great job on that Acme account, you did well handling that complaint, next time could you make sure the stock is in place before selling the product, I need you to be responsible for that and make sure we don’t have anymore complaints. But thanks for sorting it out so quickly”

    • Nah this is the worst. Anything that tries to psychologically trick someone is more often than not just going to work on children or the intellectually challenged.

      Treating people like adults not like your inferiors who you have to tippy toe around is literally the only valid management technique.

      • No psychological trickery here, you have to acknowledge what they did right, along with what they did wrong. Otherwise people will end up feeling like they can’t do anything right by you and will resent you for it.

        • GA, you did a really good job of writing this comment above, but overall you are a dangerous criminal who needs to be stopped. It’s ok though, you have beautiful eyes. :3

    • I use a very similar method called the backhanded compliment where I turn a compliment into negative feedback. Like “Wow, I wish I had the courage to wear something like that” or “I read your report for our client yesterday, I love the way you embrace twitter style grammar and spelling. It really engages a younger audience.”

  • Small criticisms give some employees a chance to practise over-reacting on a small scale before they go nuclear with outrage when they get a a major piece of critical feedback (like a warning letter).

  • Go check out and subscribe to their podcasts on how to do this and much much more.

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