The Difference Between Positive vs Negative Feedback at Work
When at work, we want nothing more than positive feedback from our colleagues. We want to hear that we are great at our jobs, hard-working team players, assets to the company, etc. You get the picture.
On the flip side, there’s this connotation that negative feedback is a bad thing. But is that true?
In this post, we’ll explore the difference between positive and negative feedback, examples of employee feedback at work, and the importance of feedback in the workplace.
Let’s dive in.
9 examples of feedback at work + why it matters to employees
Receiving feedback at work can be a confusing, uncomfortable experience. So what’s the big deal? Why do we make the effort?
In a nutshell: feedback is the fuel that keeps your engine running. It helps you grow personally and professionally, keeps your career on track, and makes you more effective at your job.
But it’s not always easy to figure out how to get good feedback, or feel comfortable giving it.
Here are some examples of how to give feedback at work.
1. Choose the right time to give feedback
Timing is everything. You want to be helpful, but you don’t want to come across as pushy or critical.
Give feedback when employees are ready to receive it — so plan it in advance by blocking time on their calendar.
Find a time when they’re more likely to be receptive and available to talk about their progress.
- When someone asks for it — if they’re struggling with something, they might appreciate your help.
- After an important event — after a big presentation or meeting, people tend to reflect on what went well and what could have gone better.
Choose an appropriate location for the conversation. If possible, have it in a private space where there won’t be interruptions from others. Also, make sure nobody else can hear what you’re saying.
If you have a remote team, it’s ok to give positive feedback over different communication channels. But if you have some not-so-good news, it’s best to give it in person or via a face-to-face video call. Make sure they’re alone, too — it’s never a good idea to bring up bad news in front of other co-workers or managers.
2. Provide regular feedback
Receiving regular feedback is one of the most essential parts of an employee’s professional growth process. It allows them to understand how they are doing, where they can improve, and how they feel about their job.
As a manager, don’t overlook the importance of providing regular feedback. Set aside quarterly meetings with your employees to share feedback that will help them grow in their role.
3. Phrase your feedback correctly
Providing feedback is a big responsibility that can sometimes feel daunting.
It helps to prepare yourself ahead of time, especially when you need to give negative feedback. Try jotting down a few notes to ensure you don’t miss any feedback points, and avoid wording that can be misconstrued.
The more detail you can provide, the better the outcome.
For example, if you want to tell someone they need to work on their communication skills, don’t just say, “you need to work on your communication skills,” because that’s not helpful.
Instead, you should say something like: “I noticed in our last meeting that you didn’t ask questions or offer any input. I would encourage you to share your thoughts in the next meeting to show your efforts on this project.”
Sharing as many details as possible is a much more effective way to give feedback because it gives your employees something specific they can use as a starting point for improvement.
Are you still feeling overwhelmed? There are plenty of different techniques and tools that can help you.
For example, you could use an AI text generator to help come up with the proper wording for your next feedback session. Stand in front of a mirror and repeat what you plan to say until you find the right tone of voice. Then, role-play with a friend or family member to gain confidence in what you are saying.
4. Avoid showing emotion when giving feedback
When you’re giving feedback, it’s easy to get emotional. You might feel angry or frustrated about something your employee did, making it hard for you to stay calm and constructive.
But if you let your emotions get the best of you, the employee receiving your feedback will likely feel defensive — and that’s not good for either of you.
Follow this step-by-step guide for handling your emotions when providing feedback:
- Prepare yourself: Take time to consider the feedback you want to give and the emotions that come with it, helping you stay calm and focused.
- Set the stage: Set up a safe, comfortable space to give feedback. Make sure the environment is conducive to open and honest conversation.
- Stick to the facts: Focus on the facts of the situation and avoid any personal attacks.
- Take a moment: If you feel your emotions rising, take a few deep breaths to help yourself stay calm and focused.
- Listen: Engage in active listening to understand the situation better and give more meaningful feedback.
- Be open to questions: Allow the other person to respond to your feedback to help build trust and create an open dialogue.
- Follow-up: Connect with the other person a few days after the conversation to make sure you are on the same page.
5. Listening to employee feedback
Listening to employee feedback is one of the most important things you can do as a successful leader in your organization.
To create a truly great workplace, you need to understand what’s going on in your employees’ minds and how it impacts their performance at work. The best way to do that is by listening to them.
Listening isn’t just about being quiet — it’s about actively paying attention, being open-minded to new ways of doing things, and asking the right questions, for instance:
- How could I have handled the situation better?
- How could I have prevented this issue from occurring in the first place?
- What steps can I take to improve in this area?
- What advice do you have for me to do better next time?
Good leaders give feedback to employees on a consistent basis, but the best ones also have an open-door policy for receiving feedback as well. CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, CROs and mid-level managers should all be willing to receive feedback from their employees at any time.
Let’s take an imaginary CRO as an example. What does a CRO do, and how can the way they give feedback impact a company? This role, in particular, handles multiple teams, including sales, marketing, business operations, customer success, and account management.
When feedback is a two-way street, it allows for an open dialog about goals and processes and promotes clear communication between employees and their managers.
This simple strategy helps keep everyone on track. If you’re not getting regular updates from your employees, you could miss important information about what’s working well in your business or things that need improvement.
6. Highlight employees’ good qualities
If you’re not also taking the time to celebrate your employees’ successes, you’re missing out on an excellent opportunity for growth.
The more you can encourage your employees, the more they’ll feel like they can do anything, and that’s a powerful feeling. When someone’s feeling confident in their abilities, they’re more likely to take on new challenges, try new things — and ultimately succeed.
7. Support employees when they have a problem
When an employee approaches you with a problem, take it seriously.
You might want to brush off the issue or tell them they’re overreacting. But if you want your employees to feel safe and comfortable at work, you must show that you’ll support them when they struggle.
Here are some ways that you can provide support for your colleagues:
- Be there for them
- Listen without judgment or interruption
- Take some responsibilities off their plate
8. Use data to enhance feedback
Data is a fantastic tool that can help provide unbiased information about what’s working and what isn’t.
When you have data, it’s easier to make informed decisions about what to do next. You don’t have to rely on your feelings or those of other people — you turn to the qualitative and quantitative datasets to help point you in the right direction and determine the necessary course of action.
For hard skills, data can help track progress and performance on projects and daily tasks, which provides insight into the current onboarding process and internal training practices.
If multiple new employees on the same team are making errors in a specific process, it could be an issue with the current controls, or the training was insufficient to ensure a smooth transition of tasks.
On the other hand, data also sheds light on evaluating soft skills such as communication, problem-solving, and teamwork.
By tracking performance data and providing feedback, your organization can better understand your employees and develop specific training programs and development plans to address any shortcomings.
9. Try the Sandwich Method (+ – +)
The sandwich method is an effective way to give negative feedback at work, should the need arise.
Start by sharing positive employee feedback first, followed by negative or constructive feedback, and then end with even more positive feedback to show your appreciation for what they’re doing right. This way, the person receiving feedback doesn’t feel attacked or defensive — they feel supported and encouraged.
As a manager, it’s important to be mindful of the recipient’s self-confidence. Merely pointing out someone’s mistakes without any positive reinforcement could have a damaging effect on their morale.
To ensure that your critique is well-received, it’s beneficial to be honest, and encouraging. Note that this doesn’t mean that you have to say they are doing great work even when they aren’t.
Avoid giving false compliments. Instead, focus on acknowledging their strengths while helping them to improve their weaknesses. This way, the person you speak to will be aware of their abilities and strive to improve.
Let’s take a look at an example.
Positive: “The content you covered in your presentation was great.”
Area of improvement: “However, I think your slides’ design and color palette could use some improvement. The slides were difficult to understand, and the visuals did not showcase the content well.”
Positive: “Despite this, the overall flow of the presentation was good. With some modifications to the slides, I think this could be an excellent presentation. Please reach out to the design team for some advice, and they will be able to help you take things to the next level. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product!”
We all make mistakes — that’s just part of life. When someone you work with makes a mistake, try to see things from their perspective and provide empathy.
For example, if they’re struggling with a task, maybe they’re new to the job, have been given conflicting instructions from another manager, or are simply having a bad day. It never hurts to ask how you can help them.
What is positive vs. negative vs. constructive feedback?
There are three types of feedback: positive, negative, and constructive.
- Positive feedback: telling someone they did something well
- Negative feedback: telling someone they did something poorly or incorrectly
- Constructive feedback: telling someone how they could have improved their work
Negative feedback isn’t always the best course of action because all you are doing is telling someone that what they did was wrong without providing any guidance on how to improve. This approach tends to make people defensive. They’ll probably stop listening to you and try to defend their actions rather than learning from them.
Constructive feedback isn’t necessarily an explicit critique of someone’s actions — it’s more of a roadmap for how they can make adjustments in both their personal and professional lives to achieve success.
Importance of workplace feedback
Let’s look at some specific examples that prove just how important workplace feedback really is.
Improves motivation in the workplace
When you provide your team with high-quality constructive criticism, it’ll encourage them to work harder and perform better to meet your expectations. This kind of accountability helps them feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves — and that’s exactly what they want.
Increases employee performance
Feedback is an essential part of our development as people. It helps us grow and change by identifying what we’re doing well and where we need to improve. Without feedback, we’d never know when we are making solid progress or when we need to change course.
Research highlighted in Harvard Business Review showed that employees who get feedback at least once a month are more likely to improve than employees who receive feedback only on occasion.
So if you are looking for how to improve call center agent performance, providing regular feedback is your best friend.
Builds the employee’s personality
We are the sum of our experiences. When it comes to the workplace, feedback is the foundation for how we manage our careers and grow as professionals.
When you share feedback with your team, it’s not just meant to help them improve in their current role — it’s also meant to build up their overall professional skill set so that they can move into other positions at your company and eventually advance in their career.
Creates better relationships
Getting employees to open up about their experience at your company and how they feel about it can be tough. But by asking them questions and listening to what they say, you can start building a better relationship with your team that’ll help you make more informed decisions, lead them toward success, and create a more productive work environment overall.
Feedback helps foster your employees’ growth and provides validation that you care about their success.
Your business isn’t a one-person show. It is a machine made up of many employees working together. Without regular maintenance, the machine won’t run properly.
Constructive feedback is the grease your company needs to keep growing, with 92% of employees believing it helps improve their overall performance. High-performing employees are the recipe for success in any business.
How to respond to feedback at work
Now that we understand the importance of feedback in the workplace, let’s dive into the best way to respond.
Remember, feedback is a two-day street. These tips can go a long way when you are receiving positive or negative feedback from your employees.
Sometimes it’s just hard to know the best way to respond, especially when the feedback has a negative tone. Here are a few tips to help you respond to feedback at work:
- Ask questions about the feedback so that you understand it better.
- Take time to process and reflect on the feedback before responding — especially if it’s negative.
- Implement the feedback. Next time, try a different approach or strategy when doing something similar at work to show your boss or co-worker that you’re listening and trying new things to improve.
And there you have it. Positive and negative feedback in the workplace is critical for the success of your employees and your business.
Positive feedback is a great thing. It helps your employees feel good about their work and motivates them to do more.
But negative feedback can be just as important — it helps people learn from their mistakes, grow as employees, and improve on their areas of weakness.
Now, over to you. Do you use positive or negative feedback? Which employee feedback tips work best for your business? Do you know other tips for improving employee feedback?
There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy here. Let us know what tactics work best for your organization.
About the author:
Kelly Moser is the co-founder and editor at Home & Jet, a digital magazine for the modern era. She’s also an expert in freelance writing and content marketing for SaaS, Fintech, and e-commerce startups.