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Error 404’ Handling tough feedback

It’s not just what you say but how you say it. This approach has often proven to be a deal breaker in how a message is interpreted or distorted.

In our last piece (CN September 11), we discussed the increasingly silent practice of ghosting, by both the recruiter and the prospective candidate. The common thread remains: delivering tough feedback. The question is, ‘how can we soften the punch of tough feedback?’.

How to give tough feedback that helps people grow

“This is not going to work out.” In business or within a personal relationship, this message is a hard pill to swallow, both by the speaker and the intended recipient of the message.

These words or anything phrased along these same lines carry and elicit fear and failure. It is more important to understand how to deliver tough feedback when leading a team.

An employee’s competence and performance ought to be managed from the onboarding process, probationary stage, and well throughout their tenure.

This can and should be documented utilising quarterly/biannual performance assessments and general feedback at teams’ meetings (not Microsoft Teams). This outlines the employee’s strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. Here is the positive spin on feedback.

The focus should always be on their greatest contribution to the organisation rather than the immediate failure. Where the weakness is listed, any effort placed on these should be to improve or support – rather than to criticise.

It’s the delivery in speech and focal points that impacts how well, or even how terrible, tough feedback is received by an employee.

Consider the phrases below.

“John, you have performed the worst out of the three non-performing salesmen within the last quarter. How are you going to fix this and meet your targets?” or “John, we must rework our strategy for the next quarter’s sales and targets. After doing some comparative sales reports, your numbers have not been too favourable for the last quarter and a few team members seem to be ahead of us. I don’t feel confident you can make the target this quarter. Let’s brainstorm on the wins you’ve had and maybe some losses and see how best be replicate those successes.”

To ensure that tough feedback is meaningful, following the steps outlined in the Situation-Behaviour-Impact (SBI) has been proven to reduce the anxiety of delivering feedback and reduce the defensiveness of the recipient:

  • Situation (briefly, but with specifics, describe the situation – not beating around the bush)
  • Behaviour (use only facts, void of opinions and judgement of the performance attributes)
  • Impact (detail the immediate impact of the situation set against the company’s goal, team’s spirit, or performance)
  • Intent (determine and explore the nature of his/her intent to better understand the root cause to bring about clarity and avoid misunderstanding)

Does your HR team or business model require additional HR support and recruitment needs? Reach out to our team at or

We can jump on a quick call at

(1-868) 384-2367.