How to Give Conversationally Intelligent Feedback

If you’re in a management position, you will at some point need to swallow that difficult pill of having to give negative feedback to a colleague. Now for years the method that has been most commonly used to start off these challenging meetings is to first of all, compliment the person on what they’ve done right, and then subtly move into the inevitable “But,” followed by what they were expecting in any case.


It usually sounds something like this:

Pauline: I wanted to talk to you about something, Sarah. First of all, you’ve accomplished some really positive things lately…

Sarah: (OK; now what have I done? Brace yourself.)

Pauline: Especially on the ABC Project you worked on last month. But I also wanted to mention something else.

Sarah: (And here we go)

Pauline: [Criticism, followed by awkward pause.]. But anyway, you’re doing a good job overall. Thanks!

Sarah: Um…OK. You’re…welcome.


The problem is that people generally don’t respond well to the getting “feedback” it implies that they have done something wrong. Which naturally puts them in a state of fear.

So what tends to happen is that the person receiving this type of feedback usually blocks out anything good said at the beginning and the end, and only focus on the negative.


So how do we navigate this tricky landscape?

Whether you want to accept it or not, people can’t park their feelings at the door when they arrive at work. It something that is always with them, and more so will always affect them.

So according to conversational intelligence, it’s best to follow the following guidelines when it comes to delivering negative feedback:

  1. Relationship before task – remember that it’s best not to get into business immediately, as people still need to know that that they are cared for the leaders in their company. So this is an ideal time for rapport building.
  2. Ask them to share how they felt the area for feedback went – Chances are if there performance on a certain task was less than satisfactory, they are well aware of it. So give them the opportunity to let them explain what happened and what they found challenging.
  3. If you concur, that the way they described the problem is accurate, then the next step it to simply ask them how to resolve the problem or what they would recommend going forward.


These techniques, are based on the premise that your employees are capable and understand their position more than anyone else. These also communicate to your employee that you value their opinion, and more importantly trust that they understand the situation, and know how to resolve it or ensure it doesn’t knowingly happen again.