How to give difficult feedback at work

How to give difficult feedback at work

Posted byAlex Hepworth on

manging a team

The way you give feedback really matters. It can affect your relationship with your team, their engagement, and ultimately how well they do in your company — positively or negatively.

That’s why it’s important you approach difficult feedback the right way.

In this article, we share some of the most common reasons you might need to give difficult feedback, how you can give feedback in a constructive way, and real life templates to use.

Why feedback matters

If you were doing something wrong, you’d want to know about it, right?

While it’s tough to give difficult feedback (and it’s not always that nice hearing it either), it matters. Without it, your team won’t know that they might need to do something differently. And you won’t be doing your job as their manager to support them to do a good job.

You might need to give difficult feedback on:

  • Their timekeeping or ability to meet deadlines
  • Their attitude or how they engage with others
  • The quality of their work
  • Their appearance or cleanliness.

The idea of providing tricky feedback on one of these topics might fill you with dread, but the conversation can ultimately be a positive one if you approach it in the right way.

How to give difficult feedback

Feedback continuously

Whatever you do, don’t save up all of your difficult feedback for a quarterly review. At the very least, share it in 1:1s, which should be happening regularly. That way your team member won’t be overwhelmed, and they’ll have a chance to change their behaviour before doing the same thing again.

Provide context

For feedback to be constructive, it should have a point of reference. So be specific. Instead of ‘You’re behaving in a rude and unprofessional manner’, say ‘You repeatedly raised your voice and interrupted others during yesterday’s team meeting.’

By tying your feedback to a specific situation, it won’t feel as much like an attack on their character, and you’ll be able to confidently back up your feedback.

Find a balance

If you can, balance difficult feedback with praise and recognition. It’ll motivate your employee to work on the areas you’ve flagged for improvement.

Give them space to respond

Remember, feedback is a dialogue, not a monologue. Always give your team member the opportunity to share their thoughts too. You might find they’ve been given some conflicting feedback, or that there’s an underlying issue you can help to resolve.

If a response isn’t forthcoming, don’t try to fill the silence. Give them time to respond, and if after five seconds they haven’t, prompt them by asking them how they feel about what you’ve just said.

Bring solutions

Problems and solutions go hand in hand, so make sure you come armed with both. Without suggested solutions you’re simply being critical.

Identify some attainable ways the employee can act on your feedback — they’ll see you’re being constructive and that you’re committed to helping them.

Stay calm

Always. Speak slowly and breathe. Avoid accusatory language and ultimatums. And never raise your voice.

Ask for feedback

Feedback’s a two way street, and it’s just as important to invite feedback from your team as it is to dish it out. Actively gather feedback by simply asking for it in 1:1s as well as through team surveys. When you receive constructive feedback, be sure to act on it too, just as you’d expect your team to do.

Progression’s feedback principles

Here’s the principles we follow when giving feedback at Progression:

Giving and receiving feedback is a skill

So we work to do a better job at it continuously.

Feedback is for the person we’re giving it to

It’s not for ourselves, or anyone else for that matter.

Feedback is another data point

The person may have received contradictory feedback, or their behaviour might have been the best option given the circumstances.

Feedback should be given little and often

It’s no good waiting too long to give feedback — the behaviour may well be repeated in the meantime. Giving feedback often creates a virtuous cycle that helps to make your team feel valued and safe.

Three real life examples

Addressing work life balance concerns

Instead of:

‘I can see you’re online on the weekend, and regularly responding to emails late at night — you’re obviously struggling with your workload.’


‘I’ve noticed you’ve been sending some emails outside of your work hours, and I’m concerned about your work life balance. Let’s run through your workload and see what we can take off your plate.’

Addressing a negative attitude

Instead of:

‘Your negativity is affecting the team — people don’t want to work with you on projects. You need to change your attitude.’


‘You seemed less motivated in our last team meeting, and it had an impact on other team members. I want to make sure you feel engaged and are happy in your work — is there something going on that’s having an impact on your mood? Is there anything I can do to help?

Addressing performance issues

Instead of:

‘You’re missing deadlines and the quality of your work isn’t up to scratch. I’m concerned you’re not going to hit your targets.’


‘I noticed you weren’t able to turn in the monthly marketing report on time, and that the results of the retargeting campaign were below what we’d forecasted due to the delay in launching it — are there any obstacles impacting your work that I can help you overcome?'

Create a feedback habit with Progression

Progression makes it easy for everyone to give, receive, reflect and act on feedback. Here’s how:

🎁 Give feedback

Feedback is way more impactful when it’s given right away. And with Progression, you can share your feedback without leaving Slack, or by simply entering in your browser.

📚 Refer back

All your team’s feedback lives in Progression, making it easy to check back, evidence progress and support them to act on it.

Your team can also use Progression to:

📮 Request feedback

No need to wait around for the next 1:1 — with Progression, it’s quick and easy to ask for feedback from anyone in your company.

🌟 Act on feedback

Actions make it easy to act on feedback right away. Note down your Actions in Progression to stay focused and on track. Once complete, you can use them to prove your growth.

Learn more about Progression → Talk to us →

Picture of Alex Hepworth

Posted by Alex Hepworth

Content Writer at Progression

Alex on LinkedIn

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