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Stop Criticizing: What to Say/Not Say While You Give Feedback

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July 12, 2022
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7 minutes
Experienced copywriter who spends a lot of money at restaurants and regrets it later.

Feedback. Different people interpret this word in their own way. Some think it’s an employer’s right to criticize their staff, while others believe that employees must be shown the right direction through feedback.

Traditionally, the corporate world worked like this: The person at the highest position was considered to be right, even when they were wrong and lower positioned employees were only allowed to listen.

It’s likely that you’ve already experienced at least a few incidents during which you felt let down after receiving feedback. Sometimes, superiors don’t realize that only pointing out mistakes in their subordinates and never praising them for their achievements is not the right way to give feedback.

Well, then what’s the right way to give feedback? In this article, we will address the traditional feedback phrases and also have a look at the corresponding modern versions of them. Thus, if you want to learn a more progressive way of communicating with staff and improving their performance, read on.

1. When Your Staff Doesn’t Meet the Desired Expectations

Avoid saying this:Replace it with this:
Your work is not satisfactory.I think this could be improved further.

When you evaluate team members, it’s possible that you may end up saying discouraging things to them, often unknowingly. Really, if a team member doesn’t produce satisfactory output, what good does saying “Your work is not satisfactory” do? First, it’s very judgmental, and secondly, it doesn’t have any actionable insight in it.

“I think this could be improved further,” on the other hand, offers room for improvement and sounds encouraging. If said in a positive tone, it implies that you admire the work that the team member has already put in, and you have faith in their ability to make it a little better. When you give feedback this way, the dignity and self-respect of the receiver remain intact.


  • Traditional workplace culture dictates that employees must be given harsh feedback and that they must listen to it without asking questions.
  • Negative feedback may seem necessary at times, but still, it must be delivered tactfully. A survey found that 92% of respondents were okay with negative feedback that was given in such way.
  • When managers evaluate team members, they should frame their words in a way to not hurt the dignity of an employee, while still delivering the message.
  • Constantly pointing out errors and asking employees to do better, may put them in a fight-or-flight mode.
  • Disciplining adults and taking punitive measures to ensure compliance and maximum productivity should be ditched for a safer workplace environment.

2. When Asking Your Staff to Change or Tweak Something

Avoid saying this:Replace it with this:
You need to change this.If I were you, I’d do it like this.

It’s likely that whatever task a team member is doing, whether it’s data collection or analysis, it won’t be perfect with the first attempt. When you evaluate team members and give feedback to them, you may end up demanding change instead of requesting it or encouraging your subordinate to make their output a little better.

If you feel that your team member’s output has missed the mark, you could say, “If I were you, I’d do it like this.” Why does this work? Well, it shows that you’re in a managerial position because you know something that the juniors don’t. Not only is it a kind way of requesting the change, but it also makes the team members believe that you’re a competent, well-informed person who knows what they are doing.

3. When Your Team Members Have a Conflict

Avoid saying this:Replace it with this:
You’re required to attend a meeting to address some concerns. Let’s meet in a safe environment and try to reach common goals.
give feedback, Stop Criticizing: What to Say/Not Say While You Give Feedback

Conflicts in teams are inevitable. As a manager, how you handle your team during conflicts will play a massive role in your career progression. In fact, a big part of conflict resolution is to give feedback to both sides and guide them towards a more pleasant workplace relationship. This, however, is easier said than done, since oftentimes, both sides in a conflict think they’re right.

Traditionally, managers used to go down the ‘investigation’ or ‘disciplinary meetings’ route to resolve a conflict. While this still happens in many places, a more advanced approach would be more collaborative and less punitive. When you meet team members in a non-judgmental way, listen to both sides carefully, and give unbiased feedback. This ensures that you don’t end up creating a culture of fear. Instead, you create a culture in which people forgive each other’s mistakes and look forward to working together in the future.

4. When a Team Member Fails to Meet the Deadline

Avoid saying this:Replace it with this:
“You need to finish X task by Y date” or “The final deadline for X task is Y date”. We’re expecting to see your wonderful work by X date.

Deadlines are one of the most dreaded things in the corporate world. This word arouses fear, anxiety, stress, worry. However, scaring your team into finishing their tasks on time is certainly not the best idea, because that doesn’t really facilitate optimum performance. Instead, it invokes the fight-or-flight response.

According to neuropsychologist Theo Tsaousides, the fight-or-flight response is an automatic reaction generated by our nervous system. It either makes people want to run away from the challenge or stay back and get aggressive. Both of these reactions could affect the quality of work negatively. Instead, if you say something along the lines of “We’re expecting to see your incredible work by X date”, the team member who receives this feedback is likely to feel motivated rather than afraid.

5. When a Team Member Needs Improvement

Avoid saying this:Replace it with this:
Your X, Y, and Z skills are poor, and you need to work on them. I think if you work on X, Y, and Z, you’ll go very far in your career.

Whenever you evaluate team members, you’ll most likely find some areas in which they can improve. After all, no employee is perfect, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. Maybe you want them to improve their communication skills, people skills, time management, problem-solving capability, or analytical thinking. The challenge, however, is to communicate it to the team member without belittling them.

As mentioned before, critical feedback may result in a fight-or-flight response. The team member who you give feedback to will either argue with you (fight) or they’ll start looking for another place to work (flight). Yet, your job, as a manager, is to ensure that all employees under your wing put their best foot forward and actually provide financial value to the business.

Thus, instead of routinely pointing out what people are doing wrong, give them a vision and point them in the right direction. For example, if you’re dealing with a staff member who has poor time management skills. In this situation you could say, “Hey Chris, I think if you use the Eisenhower matrix, you could get more work done in time and have more free time, too.” By doing so, you’re telling Chris where he needs to improve and are also providing him with a tool to manage his time better. On the other hand, if you say, “Hey Chris, you need to finish your work on time or else…”, then that’d just make matters worse.

Final Thoughts

There are several studies which have proven that ruling your employees with an iron fist isn’t the best way to go. According to a study, 92 % of employees agreed that even when negative feedback is given, it’s all good as long as it’s given properly. This shouldn’t surprise anybody. The newer generations, especially millennials, value flexibility, and freedom. Gone are the days when critical feedback was the norm. The corporate landscape is changing—are you going to be part of the progress?