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Topics: Career Development, Talent Management
How Do You Give Negative Feedback to a Positive Team Member?

One part of the job that is tough as a project manager is providing negative feedback to someone who has not met expectations on the project team. It’s even worse when this team member is usually very good and requires little to no management from you.

I’m curious about what some of the ways are that you provide negative feedback without demoralizing a good team member. Do you just let it go? Do you wait until a trend develops? Or, do you jump on the situation immediately and ensure that it never happens again?
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My approach is very similar to the feedback model at manager tools.

First, it's important to give positive and corrective feedback on a consistent basis. People shouldn't think the only time you give feedback is when something bad is about to go down.

I just ask if I can give them feedback, state the observed behavior (not attitude, etc) and the resulting impact on themselves, the team, or me. Usually I leave it at that. I usually don't force people into telling me how they will correct their behavior on the spot. Usually they will end up coming to me later and want to let me know what they are doing to correct it.

Again, it's very important to give positive feedback too, and I tend to catch my people doing things right wayyy more often than I have corrective feedback for them. That goes a long way towards building trust and making people see I'm not out to get them, I only want to help them grow professionally.

Josh Nankivel, pmStudent


I prefer to think of this type of feedback as constructive, rather than negative. The most important thing is to do it straight away (or as soon as practical). Waiting until your next scheduled meeting and then bringing up an infraction of the rules will make it look as if you are making a big deal out of something that the individual may consider not that significant and too long ago.

Jennifer, great post and replies. I have always found honesty to be the best policy. If a team member has not performed up to expectations I would discuss that with the team member without delay. And after summarizing my observation of performance that is not up to expectations, I would ask for both a response (was my observation correct or incorrect) and an explanation (if my observation was correct, then why was performance not satisfactory). I would seek to be open to the fact that there might be issues that I was not aware of that could further explain the situation.

Additionally, I have found Situational Leadership to be very helpful in such cases. By way of very brief into, the premise of Situational Leadership is that the leader must first recognize the follower readiness level in terms of ability and willingness. This simple 2x2 construct reveals four distinct levels of follower readiness (and leadership style required):

  • Willing and Able (Delegate)

  • Willing but not Able (Coach)

  • Unwilling but Able (Support)

  • Unwilling and not Able (Direct)

So, in the context of providing feedback to a follower that has not performed up to expectations, I would seek to exhibit the appropriate leadership style relative to the follower readiness. For example, someone who is able but simply not willing to do a task would need to be led differently than someone who is willing but not able, and so on.

Great post - I hope we hear and learn from others.


if its someone that is usually very good I tend to approach it by taking them for a coffee and asking them if everything is ok in their world. I then lead the discussion to the fact that the reason I am concerned for them is because their recent performance is below their usual high standard. I have had all sorts of responses to this from heartbreaking stories of divorce and personal loss causing them to be under par but not wanting to bring their personal life to work they have just got on with their job as best they can. To people saying I guess I just don't care anymore they company hasn't recognised me doing more than everyone else for the last two years so now I do just as much as everyone else and no more. I got the first couple of people some compasionate leave and the last guy a letrter of thanks from the MD with a voucher to take his wife out to dinner as he had woked a lot of weekends and so had missed time with her. In all cases normal service and performance returned.

Richard How makes an excellent, excellent point - and an often overlooked one. I have also witnessed many of such situations over the years where unbeknownst to anyone, a member of the team had been dealing with tragic personal circumstances such as the loss of a child, spouse, or family member - leading to a quite normal inability to perform at normal and expected levels. Such heartbreak happens - perhaps more than we know and want to know. Great catch, Richard..!

Yes it is always best to talk to the person to find out what else is going on in their lives that could be affecting their behavior/performance at work or if they simply need help and have been unable to ask....

But the delivery i always try to give feedback in a positive and constructive way. If you just come out with negative feedback it could also compound the situation or problem..

Try the "Kiss, Kick, Kiss" approach. Start off with a positive statement, then bring the (negative) feedback in and finish off with a positive statement (making the positive things linked to the feedback). The person will take a positive feeling away from the conversation but also the require message.

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