Last reviewed 9 August 2013

We all like praise, but can we handle it? We all hate criticism, but we need to handle it both as giver and receiver. Throughout their careers, everyone will be both a giver and receiver of positive and negative feedback. It can be difficult, unpleasant, embarrassing, but handled well, constructive. Val Moore explains.

Positive feedback


This must be the easiest feedback to give. While saying “thank you” and “well done” are important, to take time out to give specific feedback is invaluable.

It used to be said “praise in public, criticise in private”, but public praise can be embarrassing for some and, in their embarrassment, they remember only their negative feelings, not the praise. Treat all as individuals to suit their personalities (and make sure they read “receiving positive feedback”, below).

Do not leave it too long between the event and the feedback.

The best positive feedback is genuine and specific.

“I just wanted to have a few moments with you to say how well I thought you dealt with that emergency yesterday when Jane had that unexpected fit. The calm way you dealt with it, looking after Jane; asking Phil to phone for an ambulance, while reassuring the other children, was excellent. I just wanted to say ‘well done’. ”

Where appropriate, and it would be in the above situation, a small celebration by way of cakes at break time would acknowledge the event to work colleagues, allowing the person being praised to absorb the feedback and prepare themselves for the additional congratulations.

Recognising people’s positive achievements will encourage more positive behaviour.


Why are so many people embarrassed when they are praised? Often in response to praise, people are self-deprecating. Something simple such as “I do like the colour of your cardigan” can often meet with a response of “What, this old thing?”

By not accepting praise graciously we not only put ourselves down, but also question the judgment of the person who gave the praise.

Look someone in the eye, smile and say “thank you” or “I really appreciate that comment” or “it was a pleasure”.

Negative feedback


Having to give negative feedback is not pleasant for either the giver or the receiver, but it cannot be avoided.

Ignore it? The problem rarely goes away. It often makes the problem worse. In a team situation it can cause resentment.

Pussy-foot around it? This does not tackle the actual problem. It is unlikely to lead to a proper solution. It is seen as weakness by others.

Tackle it? The only solution. Thought through and dealt with sympathetically will make it less embarrassing for all.

A simple, but not unusual, problem. Tracy, who has been a good timekeeper, has started to arrive late for work. This not only causes resentment among other employees, but also has the potential to disrupt staff/child ratios.

It cannot be ignored. Pussy-footing round it by looking “significantly” at your watch as she arrives, or using sarcasm of “good afternoon Tracy” are not the actions of a good manager.

Remember the problem is about the incident, not the personality of the person.

  1. This conversation needs to take place in private, away from prying eyes and ears.

  2. Think about what needs to be said.

  3. Ensure there is time for the conversation. When someone is due to go home, or attend a meeting, these are not good times. It may be necessary to ask someone to cover their position for 15–20 minutes.

  4. Keep the room layout friendly; talking across a desk is a physical barrier so; arrange chairs so that you can sit side-by-side. Face the problem together.

  5. Do not dither. Get to the point. Be honest and specific. “Tracy — I find this a bit of a difficult situation, but it has come to my notice that over the past three weeks you have been arriving late for work on some days. This is unlike you; I do not want it to build resentment among the others and it does cause me some problems as I don’t know if you are just late, or not coming in at all. Has something happened? Is there a problem?”

  6. Allow her time to gather her thoughts.

  7. The response: “I am having to catch the bus. I got caught speeding again and I have lost my licence for three months. I did not know how to tell anyone and now it looks like I have been hiding it.”

  8. It is often a good idea to have a box of tissues handy.

  9. Suggest some solutions. Could she catch an earlier bus? How about taking the bull by the horns and telling her colleagues; yes there will be a bit of ribbing, and some embarrassment — but ultimately her colleagues will be supportive and very probably someone will sympathise (having had a similar experience) and become her support. Someone may well offer her a lift.

  10. Individually, offer a quick “thank you” to all those involved for their honesty/support.

The fear of doing something is often far worse than the actual doing of it.


Negative feedback always feels far more personal that positive feedback — but any criticism should be of an action, not a personality.

  1. No-one is perfect.

  2. Others notice things (good and bad) that the individual may not and learning is life-long.

  3. Take time to think about what has been said. If necessary, ask for “time out”.

  4. Try and remain detached — focus on the problem being raised.

  5. Avoid a negative response. Trying to justify your actions, getting upset or angry will not resolve anything.

  6. If the feedback is genuinely inaccurate then explain why and follow up with facts.

  7. If the feedback is, at least in part, deserved, acknowledge it: keep positive. Be willing to discuss a resolution. Look upon it as an opportunity to allow you to grow and develop as a person.

Giving negative feedback has more points than receiving it — so, in this case, “receiving is better than giving”. Make it a positive experience.