How to Make Negative Feedback a Positive Thing

Someone said something to you that transformed the way you saw yourself. It felt like a punch in the gut.

It challenged assumptions you held about yourself. It confronted disappointing performance you hadn’t noticed or acknowledged.


Some prefer terms like corrective, constructive, or redirecting to negative feedback. It’s called negative because it points out something bad, ineffective, and disappointing. Typically, it stings.

It’s not negative feedback until the person receiving it knows and acknowledges they’re doing something poorly.

4 reasons to give corrective feedback:

  1. Gaps between positive intention and impact. Lack of self-awareness results in unintended barriers, friction, and/or setbacks. Self awareness enables leaders to create the positive impact they intend.  
  2. Wrong assumptions about self and others. You must see who you are today before you become the leader you aspire to be tomorrow.
  3. Weakness where you they thought they had strength. Pointing out blind spots is like shining a bright light into someone’s eyes.
  4. Below standard performance. Negative feedback pops the bubble of perceived excellence.

Feedback ignites growth when dedicated people see themselves in unexpected light.

Make negative feedback a positive thing:

  1. Clarify commitments to personal growth. Negative feedback offends those who aren’t committed to their own development. High aspiration people get energized when you point out behaviors that don’t serve them well and you explore ways they might reach higher.
  2. Commit yourself to the best interest of the person hearing it. Negative feedback only works when it’s filled with positive intent.
  3. Clarify that negative feedback speaks to untapped potential. It does no good to criticize worms for not flying.
  4. Establish and maintain positive relational equity. You need at least three positive interactions for every negative exchange to enjoy positive relational equity. Give more positive feedback than negative.

How might leaders make negative feedback a positive thing?