Your palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy… It’s time to drop some critical feedback.

Don’t lie to me, you’ve been there. I know I have! 

It might not matter how many times you’ve practiced giving critical feedback, it can still feel incredibly frightening to look someone in the eye and tell them they aren’t meeting your expectations. 

Find me someone who ENJOYS giving critical feedback. I promise you’d be hard-pressed to find an individual who says “I thrive giving critical feedback.”

I couldn’t help but wonder, are we all just avoiding disappointing each other in the workplace? (Said in Carrie Bradshaw’s voice


Critical feedback can be difficult because: 

  • We’re afraid of a negative response. The person on the receiving end of the feedback may not react well. In fact, our bodies go into fight or flight mode when receiving critical feedback. Which means a bad reaction is a real possibility!
  • We’re afraid of damaging a relationship. Relationships at work can be fragile. Sprinkle in some critical feedback and suddenly your relationship can be on the rocks REAL fast. Damaging a relationship could also damage the performance of a team which no manager wants! 
  • We have a lack of experience. Not many employees OR managers are trained in how to effectively deliver critical feedback. That holds back people from feeling comfortable and therefore some people choose to completely avoid the situation. I’ve had a few managers who never gave me critical feedback! I bet I’m not the only one… 
  • There are power dynamics at play. I know so many people who would never give their manager critical feedback because of the power dynamics at play. It is in part because conversations about performance are usually initiated by the managers but also because managers hold so much power over an employee’s future success. 

Now imagine filtering through all of those reasons while trying to balance managing a team or executing your own work. 

It can feel… impossible and exhausting. 

HR teams can help build an environment that facilitates giving critical feedback in a way that doesn’t feel exhausting to everyone involved!

What can HR do:

The last thing HR needs is managers that areterrorizing their employees with poorly delivered feedback. 

But that is often the case!

Poorly delivered feedback can have implications like:

  • Low morale 
  • Negative impact on performance
  • Damage to a relationship 
  • Misunderstanding of performance 

Spoiler alert: there are a lot of reasons why employees quit their jobs but one of the most common ones is because of a manager.

There’s a lot to unpack about how to make all employees comfortable giving critical feedback but let’s start with managers. 

Here are 2 things you can do as HR to build an environment where your managers are comfortable giving critical feedback: 


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1. Train your managers. At this point I’m worried that I sound like a broken record. But train your managers, please! Delivering critical feedback in an impactful way does not come naturally to literally anyone. 

Pro-tip: Create resource guides to follow up on the training. Create a feedback framework template and give that to your managers. Every time they prepare to give feedback they should reference that template to ensure the feedback is delivered effectively. 

2. Build the system. Most employees won’t give feedback unless they are somehow prompted. Companies usually rely on bi-annual or annual performance reviews to solicit and collect feedback.

That’s not enough to build an environment where giving feedback comes naturally and employees feel safe sharing their thoughts. 

We’re doing something different at Workweek: Feedback Friday’s. 

How it works: Every two weeks managers and their direct report get together to give feedback to each other. We ask managers to answer the following questions ahead of that meeting:

  1. What are some of the ways your direct report has been most helpful?
  2. What is something you wish your direct report would stop doing or do differently?
  3. What else do you need from your direct report?
  4. Any additional comments? 

Then we go one step further, we ask the employee to answer the following questions ahead of that meeting: 

  1. What are some of the ways your manager has been most helpful?
  2. What is something you wish your manager would stop doing or do differently?
  3. What else do you need from your manager?
  4. Any additional comments? 

The key here: holding time & space for feedback. 

When both parties are regularly prompted to give feedback you can more easily promote safety. Eventually, the idea is that both parties could even feel comfortable giving critical feedback. 

Bonus point: this 2-way prompting of feedback helps alleviate some of the power dynamic. Employees may still struggle to feel comfortable but this could be the start. 

What managers need to hear: 

Real talk: If you’re not giving critical feedback you’re failing at your job as a manager. 

Managing is one of the hardest yet rewarding jobs out there. Some days can feel like an utter grind so I know when it comes to giving critical feedback you might think nahhhhhh. 

But without critical feedback your employees will never know how to grow and develop. 

Giving critical feedback can:

  • Improve performance
  • Align growth with organizational goals
  • Create accountability
  • Foster stronger relationships 

But all those benefits don’t stop critical feedback from being daunting. 

So, the next time you are faced with a situation in which you have to deliver critical feedback, here are 3 things to do to prepare yourself.

1. Write down the feedback. Reference this framework to help you prepare the feedback you want to deliver. 

Never go into a critical feedback convo cold. Just don’t. You will say something that could damage the relationship beyond repair! 

Spoiler alert: most folks can tell when someone isn’t prepared. There’s no quicker way to lose trust than to show up unprepared for a feedback convo. 

2. Practice. Once you’ve written down the feedback, read it out loud. Just do it. 

Ask yourself: how would you feel if someone gave you that feedback? 

If your answer is not great, go back to the drawing board. I’ve rewritten feedback a few times after I’ve taken a moment to read it outloud.  

3. Read the room. Right time and right place is crucial for delivering feedback. There’s nothing worse than running from meeting to meeting then rolling into a feedback conversation. Give yourself time and space to be in the best possible state for the conversation. 

If you’re not having a great day, I recommend not trying to deliver feedback. 

Once you’ve prepared for the conversation, next comes the hard part of delivering the feedback. 

Here are 10 steps to effectively deliver the feedback. 

Wrapping it up: 

The bottom line: delivering critical feedback is one of the toughest conversations we have at work. 

The bright side? You’re not alone, most folks struggle with the conversation. 

But with the proper preparation and practice, you can become more comfortable. 

Next week I will dive into the last part of this series on difficult conversations. 

The conversation where you have to share that you may be treated unfairly.

Hebba Youssef
Hebba Youssef

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