How to Give the Really Negative Feedback to the People Who Really Can’t Take It

One thing I find interesting about the people who have the biggest flaws is that very often they’re also the ones who have the hardest time seeing them and accepting them. If a person is a real pain in the ass, she probably sees herself as a really cool person, with awesome people skills, who everybody loves.

This is the result of a combination of things:

  • A big ego;
  • An even bigger lack of self-awareness;
  • The facts that let’s face it, it’s hard to accept that you have some major flaws.

As a result, giving feedback to these people about their flaws (meaning really negative feedback) will usually leave you wondering what did you open your damned mouth in the first place. I am proud to have a pretty good success rate in giving really negative feedback to the people who really can’t take it, and getting through to them (and by ‘pretty good’ I mean about 50%).

Here are some of the ideas which create the best results specifically with these kinds of people, when you give them really negative feedback:

1. Catch them when they’re questioning themselves. Even the most arrogant and blind person has moments when she’s wondering if it’s possible that she did something wrong, that it’s her fault. When the manager with terrible people skills will lose his 5th employee that month, chances are that at least for a couple of minutes, he’s questioning his people skills as a manager. It’s the best opportunity to deliver the negative feedback.

2. Earn their trust. When a person knows that you mean to help her and that your judgment is sound, even if she usually can’t take negative feedback, she will become a lot more open to yours. I sometimes give pretty brutal feedback in my coaching to people who otherwise don’t take it well. And because I have earned their trust as a coach, they take my feedback well. Find your own ways to earn their trust, and use them.

3. Give it in thin slices. Don’t use one opportunity to tell a person like this about all her flaws, which could be quite a few. It works with some, but more often than not, it just seems like you’re set on butchering her and this is why her defenses will go up. My recommendation is that you point out one flaw in one feedback.

4. Back it up with hard evidence. It will be tough to convince a person like this of a certain flow. When you point it out, she will just deny it. This is the moment when you need to present real, powerful examples of that certain flaw. For example, when you say to this person that she often breaks her promises, she will say: “No I don’t. I never break my promises”. It is at this point that you pull out the big list of real situations when she did break her promises and start reading it. Kidding about the list by the way; you should have them in your head, otherwise is seems like a trial.

5. Whatever you do, do not loose your temper. With this person, it is very likely that as you give her the negative feedback, she will loose her temper and get verbally aggressive on you. In my perspective, if you do the same, it’s game over. Your chances of getting your feedback accepted have gone down to zero. This is why it’s essential to keep you calm, or at least to be able to fake it.

Don’t expect to make every person accept any feedback. No amount of people skills will allow you to do that. But, do expect to be able to break even the toughest shell, at least once in a while. And give it a try before saying no.


  1. I have a 6th one for you:

    Don’t tell them what they are doing wrong, suggest to them what they might do better!
    .-= sandra´s last blog ..My target and what I would need it for: =-.

  2. Eduard, this is one of the best posts I’ve read in ages! Really good work, well done. Now I need to try giving some feedback to my pain-in-the-ass person!
    .-= Topi´s last blog ..How will you be defined? =-.

  3. Keeping cool is an essential one, it can be so frustrating when there is something which seems glaringly obvious, you want to shake someone and they simply can’t see it – the tempatation to really shout at them can be strong!!
    I was a little surprised (pleasantly so) by this post. When I saw the title I assumed it would be people who can’t take it because they are likely to breakdown in tears at the slightest hint of criticism -they are hard to deal with too!

    Many thanks,

  4. I like the do not tip about losing your temper. Staying cool is a great way to avoid a conflict. If the person reacts badly, and you are able to stay calm, it will help them see that they are overreacting. Thanks for the insight.

    • Hey Ralph,

      One thing I really like about remaining cool is that it often allows you to pull the other person in the same state. You can get pulled into her angry state, or you can pull her into your calm state. Either way, eventually people tend to reach the same state in a discussion like this.

  5. Hi Eduard,

    Very interesting approach, I believe that the feedback process is always complicated, especially if involving negative ones of course. Feed backs are often considered “judgments” and people easily don’t see the positive side of them

    Thank you for sharing your technique!


    • Hi Moira,

      Yeah, nobody likes to be judged. Nonetheless, everybody needs to learn this. I think that pointing out behaviors and their consequences instead of making judgments when giving feedback helps a lot.

  6. One of my colleagues shared a simple approach with me. He now asks for permission up front — “Do you want some feedback?” He found that simply by asking first, he sets the stage for more effective feedback.
    .-= J.D. Meier´s last blog ..3 Take Aways from The Karate Kid =-.

    • Oooh, I forgot about this one. Yes, I think it can help a lot. Besides, almost everybody will reply positively to your question, and then you have that person trying to take your feedback as well as possible.

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