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By Darryl Stewart

Giving negative feedback: some reminders

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Several readers of this blog have reached out to me about giving negative feedback to their staff recently. I thought I’d share some of the key points from our discussions with you.

First off, the sandwich model does not work. We have all heard the advice to wrap a negative with a few positives. In my experience (yes I used to do this) people see right through this, and even if they don’t you are in trouble anyway. Just as they are beginning to bask in the glow of the positive feedback, you go and hit them with a negative blindside. If you need to give negative feedback do it at the first opportunity and don’t sugar coat it with insincere positives.

Negative feedback does not have to be an attack, or a dreadful conversation. If we stay away from being judgmental and simply talk about exactly what we observed, the feedback will be much easier to take. For example, if we go down the “It was wrong when you did this…” road we are bound to incite defensiveness. Instead if we are more descriptive as opposed to judgmental, “I noticed that…” we are sure to help the person open up about the real issues and give us clues as to how to proceed.

A big thing for me in moderating my attitude when providing negative feedback is my understanding that for the vast majority of situations, I am the problem not my team member. I have not made my expectations clear enough, I have not communicated well enough, I have not listened enough before delegating, I have not provided sufficient training or support or I have selected someone for a role they are not suited for. Keeping these thoughts in mind helps me stay as calm, humble and non-judgmental as I possibly can. In the end, there is no point in being anything but calm and supportive. If things do get to the point where I know I have done all I can and this person is not working out in the role, I am going to take action and select them out of the role calmly and professionally.

I believe that performance is impacted the most by the frequency and timeliness of feedback. If we give positive feedback sincerely and frequently there is no need to hold back on the negative feedback delivered in non-judgmental and supportive ways. People absolutely want our feedback, both good and bad, and great leaders are skilled at giving both.

As always I love having these leadership discussions with you guys. If you have any questions or feedback about the blog, or leadership in general please feel free to reply to this post or give me a call at 204-992-9940.


IBEX Payroll extends our profound respect and immeasurable gratitude to all the ancestors and keepers of the land on whose traditional territories our work takes place. We acknowledge that we are on Treaty 1 territory, the traditional gathering place of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene people and the traditional homeland of the Métis people. This land is sacred, historical, and significant. 

Every time we acknowledge this truth, we have an invitation and an opportunity to reflect on the wrongs of the past, what we do in the present, and what we can do to continually honour the people whose lands and water we benefit from today. 

This statement only acts as a first step in honouring the land we reside on and its peoples, and must be paired with education, understanding and informed action.