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When things go wrong! Giving criticism and negative feedback! Seven Ways to Be!

When things go wrong

Sometimes in leading or managing a team we need to give criticism or negative feedback.  Not everything can be perfect every time.  Sometimes things go wrong.  And sometimes that something is down to an action or lack of action by a person or a group of people.

First and most important be sure of the facts.  Try to find out exactly what went wrong and why.

To do this properly you need to have won the confidence and trust of your team.  They need to know that you will deal with them honestly, fairly and with compassion.  That does not mean that you will never give criticism when it is due.

Make sure that your criticism is constructive – it should be about getting things right in the future not about punishment or about scapegoats.  It should not be about the personal qualities of people.  You are not a parent, a school teacher or a judge in a Court of Law.

Dealing with discipline

If you think there has been a disciplinary offence then deal with it in line with your HR Policy. If necessary, take advice and if you are an SME don’t be afraid to have a word with an Employment Law Adviser.  Getting it wrong can cost you a lot of money.  If your team includes contractors be clear about the contract and where contractual responsibilities lies.

Giving Criticism!

Seven Ways to Be

How you sound, look and behave when you give the feedback often matters as much as the words you use.  But the words are important.

Here are my eight ways to be when giving criticism.
  1. Be direct! Get to the point and give the feedback in a simple straight forward way.
  2. Be clear! Set out what you are criticizing, the change you want to see and why.
  3. Be sincere! Say what you mean and mean what you say.  Sincerity mean you speak with care and respect. Don’t send a mixed message – for example “I think you are all wonderful but there is just this little thing I’d like to mention”.  This usually means the real purpose of the message gets lost. Putting the “but” in the middle just creates contradictions
  4. Be serious! Express concern but do not become emotional.  Getting angry and showing frustration will distort the message.  Again remember you are trying to create awareness and improve performance not to create noise, vent or make yourself feel better.
  5. Be objective! State what you have observed and the evidence you have gathered.  Do not reinterpret the facts and add your opinion beyond stating the gap between what happened and what should have happened according to the standards set by you or your organization.
  6. Be live! To have impact, feedback needs to be direct and person to person; not through someone else or through technology.  Talk live to people face-to-face when you can or by phone if there is no alternative.  If talking to a group be with them either physically or by a direct line.
  7. Be on time! No I don’t mean don’t be late for the meeting, although you never should.  Give feedback as close as possible to the event.  When everything is fresh in people’s mind your comments will have far greater impact than further down the line when many may have forgotten exactly what happened.
Those are my Seven Ways to Be when giving criticism and negative feedback.  Do you agree?  Send me your thoughts and observations by commenting below.

Wendy Mason works as a Coach, Consultant and Writer. 

She works with all kinds of people going through many different kinds of personal and career change, particularly those;
  • looking for work
  • looking for promotion or newly promoted
  • moving between Public and Private Sectors
  • facing redundancy
  • moving into retirement
  • wanting to do a mid-life review
You can contact Wendy at  or ring ++44 (0)2084610114



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