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How to give tough feedback


“I’m a self-confessed conflict avoider and people pleaser”. 
This was how Lisa introduced herself to me the other week when she was looking for help having “wildly uncomfortable conversations” with certain members of her team. 
As a senior manager, Lisa needed to deliver constructive criticism and address poor behaviour and performance, but like many of my clients, she felt huge resistance to the idea of having awkward conversations, having to be confrontational, and potentially being seen as “mean”. 
Valuing harmony, and with a serious desire to be liked, Lisa avoided the discomfort by stepping in to do the work herself, but the volume was unsustainable and it was hampering her ability to progress. 
“I want to be more self-confident, build gravitas, and find a way to have these conversations successfully”, she told me. “I don’t want to be a pushover anymore.” 
Now, Lisa isn’t the only one. I’ve had a similar discussion with three other clients in the last month alone, who were all looking for a way to deal with this! 
So to help each of them, I gave them some rules of engagement and a specific framework for shaping and managing these conversations effectively. 
Each has subsequently reported a big shift in both their comfort level approaching these tough discussions, and the positive changes made by those they’ve spoken to. 
So if you struggle with conflict and people pleasing, and want to deliver tough feedback successfully, try this out for yourself: 
Rules of engagement 

- Deliver constructive feedback within 24 hours wherever possible – this is really important because if you leave it too long, it will be harder to engage someone and have them take your feedback seriously. 

- Only feed back 2-3 points maximumany more and your feedback will lose its impact and the person you’re talking to won’t take it all in. 

- Focus on descriptions, not judgement – keep your feedback factual, so you are describing the issue, rather than judging it. For example, “A number of important deadlines were missed without a heads up…” versus “That was really bad because…” 

- Focus on behaviour, not the person – again, keep the emotion out of it, so you are describing a behaviour, rather than delivering a judgement about that person. For example, “You talked considerably during a client call, which prevented us from getting to some of the main points…” versus “You talk too much”. 

Constructive criticism framework 

- Research – Before you do anything, collate the concrete data or proof points that support your argument clearly and simply. 

- Delivery – In the conversation itself, use your proof points to do the following (and it’stotally okay if you take written notes on your proof points to that meeting):

  • Describe a specific issue or behaviour 
  • Describe the impact of that behaviour – explain how it is affecting you, the team or the business 

  • Describe what you want them to do differently – be explicit so there is no room for misinterpretation 

- Listen – This part is vital and it’s usually the bit that is missed out! Ask the following questions, then listen and be open to the person’s answers. This gives the individual a chance to respond, explain how they see if from their side, and note anything outside of their control that might be causing the problem so that you can respond accordingly: 
  • How do you see the situation? 

  • How might you do things differently next time? 

  • What do you think worked and what could be improved?

- Next steps – After you’ve listened and responded, suggest, discuss and agree next steps that might produce a better result. This ensures the individual feels involved in the agreed resolution, which helps with improved accountability.  

- Follow up – Before concluding, plan to meet again within a month to check on progress and see if the changes are working, booking a meeting in the diary so it’s scheduled. 

Alison x 


If you, or an aspiring or senior leader in your business, would like help conquering challenges like giving constructive feedback, building confidence, or maximising yourpotential, contact Souha Khairallah, Talent and Professional Development Director, PRCA at, and ask for a no-strings consultation call with me.  

I deliver structured coaching programmes that are tailored to the individual, helping people overcome barriers, capitalise on their innate strengths and realise their true potential. 

Summer Sale - Please email if you wish to make a booking with a 15% discount.

About the author 

Alison O’Leary is a certified life coach, specialised in career coaching through her practice,Live True. In a 20-year career she has held a number of senior management positions within the PR industry, most recently as Deputy Managing Director, Europe for Racepoint Global. Alison specialises in people development and combines insights, tools and methodologies from corporate and personal coaching work to help communications professionals realise their true potential for personal and organisational benefit. She partners with the PRCA to provide bespoke Senior Leader Coachingand Managing Performance to Improve Productivity Training. For more information contact