Effective Feedback: How to Give Negative Feedback

In recent/past posts, we’ve covered the optimal ratio of positive to negative feedback(which is roughly 5 to 1) as well as some tips on delivering positive feedback that resonates.

The general idea is that positive feedback builds momentum toward positive performance. If positive feedback is all an agent or team hears, though, you can expect diminishing returns. Some agents may wind up complacent, feeling like they can do no wrong, and they might lose some trust in their leader(s), too, if they are never given any constructive criticism.

Abstaining from negative can make agents feel anxious, and like their job really isn’t very important. Not important enough to warrant improving, at least.

Negative feedback guides empowerment, according to an article from the Harvard Business Review. “Negative feedback is important when we’re heading over a cliff to warn us that we’d really better stop doing something horrible or start doing something we’re not doing right away.”

But even the most well-intentioned criticism can destroy a manager/agent relationship. And if it isn’t handled with care, you risk stifling confidence and initiative.

Three Tips for Negative Feedback that Empowers

1. Focus Your Feedback. Keeping in mind the 5:1 praise-to-criticism ratio, identify the one thing that needs attention when giving feedback. To help, take pulse of your agents’ performance regularly. If you’re only paying attention when you’ve scheduled a last-minute coaching session, (because where did the day/week/month/quarter go?) you’ll only be able to reference a few days’ worth of performance. If that.

2. Be specific and actionable. Vague feedback isn’t helpful. And, from your agent’s perspective, it’s open to interpretation. Feedback that lacks detail can come across as half-hearted, impersonal, and non-urgent. It’s feedback for the sake of feedback. Instead, focus on helping your agent know exactly where to focus. Create a strategy to improve together. And then give actionable tips to boost efficiency or effectiveness. Through collaborative coaching, you’ll build loyalty and amp up your agent’s confidence to do the job you trust them to do.

3. Emphasize the why, and the bigger picture. (This point goes for positive feedback, as well.) It’s one thing to tell an agent something specific they could improve on—be it a skill, attitude, or behavior. But it’s another to make it clear why the tweak/change is worth the effort. Negative feedback comes across as more collaborative (and less punitive) when paired with a compelling why.

Ask yourself what kind of impact the recommended change can have on your agent and company. Then connect it with something bigger than the manager-employee relationship or metrics/numbers. If you can’t link it to something bigger, like your agent experience, customer experience, or brand reputation, then it may be time to return to tip number one and choose a different (more meaningful) battle.

Final Thoughts

Negative feedback is a crucial component of agent growth and development. It’s also an essential piece of good management, and helps keep agents sharp enough to continue accommodating customers’ ever-rising expectations.
Negative feedback isn’t something supervisors or agents should fear. It’s just part of doing business. And when it’s delivered the right way—when it’s specific, actionable, and clearly connected to something bigger than mere performance metrics—it can be transformative, leading to more empowered, efficient, and effective agents.