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Providing Negative Feedback

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Digital Marketing - Study Notes:

Feedback relating to restoring discipline, correcting mistakes, or preventing unacceptable behavior is commonly referred to as negative feedback. If skillfully delivered, it can be received positively and reinforce desired behavior and performance. To increase receptivity to your feedback, remove judgment, use clear descriptions, and where possible, start with questions.

Best practices

There are best practices you can follow when delivering negative feedback.

Give feedback in the manner of a neutral outside observer

This can help avoid negative reactions by taking the emotion out of the situation. To do this, take up a position beside the receiver of the feedback. Then say you would like them to imagine re-living the incident or event that led to this feedback. Suggest they imagine you are both watching it on video, and ask them to refer to themselves in the scene as 'him or her over there'.

Invite feedback and possible solutions

Ask them if what happened was what they intended. If they had a chance to be there again, what could he or she do differently? This way of talking avoids any sense of confrontation, because the conversation is about him or her over there. It’s a dissociated point of view. And inviting self-feedback and possible solutions from the receiver in this way can increase agreement and buy-in. It may also increase respect and remove any need for disciplinary action. If you avoid making judgments or offering your opinions, you leave the person free to create solutions that seem doable for them.

Frame the feedback

Frame any suggestions you make with the words "What if?". Gain their agreement first by saying, “I have some thoughts too about what I would like from you. Can I tell you what they are?” Then say, “What would it be like if you did this from now on? What if you did that, what do you think would happen then?” This way of talking invites the receiver to imagine possible outcomes and either accept, reject, or modify the suggestion. Whatever they propose in response is their idea, and their commitment to it will be greater than if it felt like your idea.

Giving negative feedback in practice

A computer programmer, named Gerry, was being interviewed by his team manager for verbally attacking and shouting at a team colleague and almost coming to blows with him. The fight in an open plan office in front of 20 other employees had been stopped by a third person, and the programmer had been named as the person who started the fight.

The manager started by saying this was a serious incident and really must not happen again. He had arranged their chairs at right angles, side by side. He said, “Gerry, how about if we could see Gerry there by the wall, as if someone had filmed that fight on their mobile phone.”

The manager asked the programmer to talk about “the Gerry over there”. As they ‘watched’ the scene again, the programmer admitted that ‘Gerry’ probably over-reacted. He can see that his colleague was just having a bit of fun teasing him, and things got out of hand.

Gerry argued that his colleague had “gone too far”, and the manager agreed with him. So the manager asked Gerry how he would react the next time his colleague started teasing him.

Gerry promised that he’d keep his cool the next time. He could either ignore the teasing, or talk calmly to the colleague about it.

The manager then asked Gerry if he’d like to hear his suggestion. Once Gerry agreed, the manager asked, “What would it be like if Gerry were to give feedback to his colleague?” just like the manager was giving to Gerry.

Gerry agreed that this would indeed be a good idea!

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Bill Phillips and Kevin J Reid

Bill Phillips is an International Facilitator, Trainer, and Team Coach.

  • Has successfully coached CEOs, board members, directors, executive teams, and team leaders in public and private companies, NGOs, and UN organizations in 15 countries across four continents
  • Is the creator of Future-basing®, a highly potent process for building strategy, vision, and cooperation
  • Inspires people to build excellent interpersonal relationships and achieve their goals

In this module, Bill is the instructor for the ‘Leading With Emotional Intelligence’, 'How to Delegate to Your Team', and 'Providing Effective Feedback' lessons.


Kevin Reid is CEO of Personal Skills Training, Senior Coach at Kevin J Reid Coaching, Co-founder and Communications Director of The Counsel.ie, and Lead Collaborator of LeitrimMade.com.

  • A consummate and skillful international communications trainer, facilitator, and coach
  • Has over 15 years of learning development experience with individuals, teams, and entire organizations
  • Has facilitated communications workshops and training across numerous sectors in Ireland, the UK, Europe, America, and Africa

In this module, Kevin is the instructor for the ‘Coaching and Mentoring’ lesson.

The following pieces of content from the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library have been chosen to offer additional material that you might find interesting or insightful.

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Building Effective Teams
Bill Phillips and Kevin J Reid
Skills Expert

As a leader, you will only be as successful as the people who work with you. So it makes sense to build the best, most effective teams possible, and get the most out of your daily interactions with colleagues.  

This module will introduce you to the concept of emotional intelligence – a skill that should be in every leader’s toolkit. Emotional intelligence can help you enhance your working relationships at all levels, and you should aim to practice it every day in the workplace.

You will also learn about coaching and mentoring – and how these two activities can bring out the best in your employees.

In addition, you will learn about delegation. How can you delegate successfully? What tasks should you delegate? And how can you ensure you get the best results? The lesson on delegation provides you with the answers.

Finally, the module also looks at feedback, and explains why leaders should never be afraid to provide it – even when the feedback is negative.