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Feedback is an integral part of the cycle of growth. Most organizations have regular performance reviews during which employees are given feedback about their contributions and shortfalls. While praising good performance is easy, telling someone in your team that he needs to do better can be a daunting exercise.

Tough feedback is when you have to tell a team member that they’ve screwed up on something important or when you need to selectively highlight all the negatives in a particular team member’s work. Telling an employee that he has failed to meet expectations or that he has done something wrong at work can be a serious blow to his ego— especially if that employee is used to you singing his praises. But criticism is an inevitable part of life in the office and you shouldn’t try to avoid it.

Most managers tend to avoid having these uncomfortable conversations with their team members. When tough feedback needs to be given, they try to keep things as short and direct as possible with an attitude of ‘getting-it-done-with’. But in reality, the assumption that your team is not going to like what you say is holding you back from helping them grow.

As a leader, the first thing you need to understand is that accepting negative feedback is never going to be easy. Employee reactions could range from anger, denial, blame to becoming argumentative and most would look at it as a personal attack, depending on their levels of trust and communication with you.

Whatever the reaction might be, as a leader, it’s your job to make the employee realize what he’s done or that he’s doing something wrong. By keeping the session short or trying to sugar-coat your feedback with praises, you don’t want to your employee to feel like the matter at hand isn’t important.


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Instead, it’s essential to create conditions in which the receiver can take in feedback, reflect on it, and learn from it. The truth is, receiving negative feedback is an incredible opportunity to show your team their capability for learning and growth. An employee who is able to take negative feedback and act on it will likely be more valuable than an employee who never takes risks in the first place.

Giving tough feedback is not just telling your team what it’s doing wrong, it’s also about what they can do right or better. Such feedback sessions are as much a test of your leadership skills as they are of the resilience of your team members.

Being in a leadership position, you should be able to identify the mistakes your team is making and have conversations with them that will help them realize where they’re falling short. This way you can also suggest alternatives that will allow them to perform better. More than anything, it’s important that you let them know that the feedback you’re sharing is coming from a desire to help them and is not aimed at pulling their morale down.

Your team may not like what you have to say, but when you back it with a genuine effort to improve their performance, they will understand that tough feedback is what will take them forward in their careers.