Culture Shift: Delivering feedback harshly

The way you say things has impact. Take a good, hard look at the way you give feedback at work and in any relationship. You have to remember this tip, or you will destroy the effectiveness of feedback and cause impact that you do not intend.

Feedback done well inside teams, organizations and between individuals is imperative to growth and improvement. It builds trust, rapport and healthier relationships. The flip side is that it also can be incredibly damaging to progress and relationships if it’s done poorly.

One example of feedback done poorly is delivering it in a harsh or unkind way. Causing shame or guilt when delivering feedback damages work and all relationships by lowering trust and it completely detracts from the purpose of the feedback.

What is the true purpose of the feedback? When you deliver feedback to someone else, it’s extremely important to consider exactly what you want the impact of that feedback to be.

Before delivering any feedback, you have to take an honest examination of your true intent. If the point of the feedback is to correct a behavior or improve performance then great, keep it at that and steer clear of adding emotional weapons to the conversation.

When you bring criticism, shame, embarrassment or guilt to the party by delivering feedback in a harsh or unkind way, you add a whole new element and a secondary impact that only serves to decrease the effectiveness and damage the relationship.

If someone feels embarrassed, criticized or shamed as a result of feedback being delivered harshly, they are going to be much less receptive to the message. Those powerful emotions are going to weigh more heavily on them than whatever the feedback was addressing.

What qualifies as “harsh”? Here is a list of things to avoid when giving feedback that definitely qualify as harsh and are completely unnecessary:

  • Raising your voice or yelling.
  • Insulting them personally or name calling.
  • Labeling the person or speaking in absolutes (always/never): “You’re lazy,” or “You always make mistakes.”
  • Using a sharp or rude tone of voice. This includes being sarcastic, demeaning or speaking to them like they are a child or an idiot.
  • Mean or aggressive facial expressions and body language.

Do not do these things. You can clearly, directly and succinctly provide feedback to another human being without doing any of these things. Keep your choice of words, tone of voice and body language positive, kind and direct.

That doesn’t mean that feedback can’t be serious or potentially high stakes and severe. It means that if you want that feedback to be effective, focus on what the actual intent and purpose of the feedback is and don’t muddy the water and add emotional weight to the conversation that will undermine the message.

Kind is effective. People who deliver feedback in a conscious way and are intentional about not shaming or embarrassing the other person in the process have healthier work and personal relationships.

Having to give feedback to others in life is inevitable. Whether that is at work, in friendships or with romantic partners, it plays a huge part on the strength and health of any relationship. So, check your intentions and be mindful of your approach when delivering any feedback.

Galen Emanuele is a speaker and trainer on business leadership and team culture based out of Portland, Ore. Every week, Emanuele produces a video and blog post highlighting vital conversations, building skill sets and showing teams how to drive exceptional culture and leadership. To see more, visit


By Steve Campbell
Steve Campbell

Steve CampbellSteve Campbell

Steve Campbell is the multimedia editor for Rental Management. He develops new digital opportunities for Rental Management subscribers and advertisers while also doing videos and writing stories. Steve is a huge sports fan with the Chicago White Sox, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bulls being his top teams. He also enjoys DIY home projects with his wife and continues to figure out “dad life.”

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