How to Give Negative Feedback Over Email Without Sounding Harsh (+ Examples)

Discover how best to give negative feedback over email, plus best practices for providing feedback in a business setting

February 29, 2024
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Providing negative performance feedback sometimes is difficult in every situation. But, it gets much more challenging when it has to be via email and at work because it could go sideways.

So, whether you're dealing with an employee's performance issue, offering criticism of a colleague's work, or raising issues with HR regarding the business or a manager, it's crucial to approach these situations with tact and diplomacy. 

This blog post will discuss how to deliver effective negative feedback, while promoting open dialogue and getting a beneficial outcome. We will also compare the simplicity of providing negative comments in emails about goods or services with the difficulties of doing so in the workplace.

We don't want our feedback to cause more harm than good now, do we?

The Challenge of Giving Negative Feedback over Email

While many people may find it hard to provide negative feedback by email, it's often easier to write a negative email regarding a good or service. 

This is because, although you might not think twice about voicing discontent about a product or service, there could be a fear of hurting feelings or destroying relationships in the former.

However, giving feedback, including disapproving feedback, is crucial to professional development. And effective delivery should improve connections while enhancing performance and efficiency. So, to make the best of your opportunity while sharing feedback, here are some essential tips to consider: 

Be Specific and Objective: Clearly and impartially articulate the problem or issue that needs improvement. Be clear of general or sweeping comments that could be misunderstood or misjudged. Use facts, examples, and supporting evidence to support your feedback and give the recipient a clear context.

Use a Constructive and Respectful Tone: Avoid using a hostile tone in your communication. Instead, adopt a positive, courteous style that promotes positive conversation, candid dialogue and a team effort to solve the problem. Instead of blaming the individual, concentrate on the behavior or the circumstance.

Offer Solutions and Suggestions: Provide suggestions to solve the issue rather than just stating the problem. This demonstrates your commitment to solving the challenge and your willingness to provide practical guidance to assist the recipient in enhancing their performance.

Use Empathetic Language: Consider the recipient's perspective and respect their efforts when giving unfavorable or constructive feedback. This can lessen the blow of criticism and cultivate an atmosphere conducive to productive dialogue.

Provide Follow-Up Support: Give the recipient support and aid in resolving the problem or concern. Providing resources, further coaching or training, or simply making yourself available for more conversation or explanation are all examples of how to do this. This displays your dedication to their achievement and your readiness to support them as they grow. 

What Is An Example Of A Negative Feedback Email?

As professionals, giving constructive criticism after negative feedback can be dicey, we must practice emotional intelligence when pointing out a flaw in a colleague or employee's performance. 

Here are four specific examples of of negative feedback at work to consider:

  1. Negative feedback to Manager examples - An Employee Writing to a Manager:

Subject: Feedback on Team Communication Dear [Manager's Name], I hope this email finds you well. 

I'm writing to share my opinion regarding the team's communication during our most recent project. 

Although we effectively completed the project, I observed that there were times when we needed crucial information promptly but didn't get it. And this led to delays and misconceptions. 

I believe that enhancing team communication can improve collaboration and the prompt completion of projects. 

I would be pleased to go into more detail about this and look into how we can improve team communication moving forward.

[Appropriate conclusion]

  1. Negative feedback to employee examples - A Manager Writing to an Employee:

Subject: Feedback on Sales Performance

Dear [Employee's Name], I hope you're doing great.

Regarding your sales performance during the previous month, I am writing to offer some feedback. 

Despite your commitment and hard work, I noticed a reduction in your ability to hit your sales goals consistently.

As you know, sales staff need to collectively hit our targets for the company to reach its revenue goals. 

I'd like to meet with you to review how we can collaborate to boost your sales performance and consider ways to assist you in moving forward with your goals. 

[Appropriate conclusion]

  1. Negative feedback examples for the company - An Employee Writing to HR Regarding the Company:

Subject: Feedback on Company Culture

Dear [HR's Name], I hope you are well.

I am writing to provide some feedback on the company culture. 

I value the experiences and opportunities I have had at the organization; but I've observed a few issues that are lowering staff morale and decreasing overall job satisfaction. 

Favoritism, a lack of transparency in decision-making, and fewer prospects for career advancement have occurred. Tackling these issues can lead to a more encouraging workplace and greater employee engagement. 

I'd love to discuss these issues in more detail and look into potential solutions to enhance the corporate culture n our company.

[Appropriate conclusion]

  1. Negative feedback For Manager examples - An Employee Writing to HR Regarding Their Manager:

Subject: Feedback on Managerial Style

Dear [HR's Name], I hope your week is going great.

I'm reaching out regarding my manager's management style. 

Although I appreciate my manager's knowledge and resourcefulness, there have been times when my other team members and I have needed better clarification on our communication style and methodology.

Our team's morale and productivity have been affected by incidents of micromanagement, unclear expectations, and inconsistent employee feedback throughout.

I believe tackling these issues will lead to a more positive work environment and successful teamwork. For the sake of the team and the success of the business as a whole, I would appreciate discussing these issues in more detail and looking into potential solutions for future feedback.

[Appropriate conclusion]

How Do You Email A Company About Negative Feedback?

Feedback can come from within or outside an organization. And effective feedback always positively impacts everyone involved, whether positive or negative. 

Customer feedback is valuable for businesses but could get out of hand if mishandled. The best way is to share your criticism professionally while being respectful and helpful. 

Here are some tips to ensure your negative and positive feedback comes across correctly:

Introduce yourself: State your name before you begin. This will help clarify who you are and why you're sharing feedback. For example: "Hello, my name is [your name], and I recently bought the xyz product." 

Focus on facts instead of feelings: Instead of making assumptions about why something happened, state the facts you have. Instead of saying something like "I think this happened because..." try saying things like "I received this item in.

Be specific to deliver good feedback here: If there's one thing that helps all parties involved, it's specificity. Being particular is essential when giving negative feedback and forces you to be reasonable. Instead of saying, "Your services are terrible," go into detail and mention what makes them bad in your opinion.


Subject: Feedback on Recent Product Purchase

Dear [Company Name], I hope this email finds you well.

My name is [Your name], and I recently bought one of your printers and wanted to share my thoughts on the experience.

The item I received did not match the description on your website, which disappointed me. The item's color was different, and the printing quality needed to be better and didn't match the specifications stated. I've included a picture as a reference, and I would love to return this product.

As a devoted consumer of your brand, I typically appreciate the precision and quality of your products. However, there's room for improvement.

I acknowledge that errors sometimes occur. So, I propose that you improve the product descriptions on your website to avoid similar problems for future clients.

I've been a happy customer of your company for a long time, and I request your assistance in resolving this issue.

I value your attention to this problem and await your swift response.

Thank you.


[Your Name]

[Contact Information]

What Are Some Negative Words Used In Email?

When sending negative comments by email, it's essential to be careful with your language. Your words can significantly impact how the recipient understands and reacts to your comments. 

By reading some quality feedback email examples, you can continually improve and learn what words to use and what words to forego.

Here are some examples of negative words to avoid when sending an email:

  • "Failure" or "failed": These words may come across as disparaging, giving the email a bad tone. Instead, concentrate on the areas that require development or ideas for enhancing performance.

For instance, you may say, "You didn't meet your deadline. We can work together to discover solutions to assure timely completion in the future," instead of, "You have failed to meet the deadline."

  • "Mistake" or "error": The recipient may get defensive as the words often appear accusatory. Instead, to identify areas for improvement, use neutral or helpful terms. For example, you can say, "There is an opportunity to enhance the correctness of the report by double-checking the data," as opposed to, "You made a mistake in the report."
  • "Problem" or "issue": These words may have a negative connotation and often mask the actual issue. Instead, concentrate on identifying alternatives or solutions.

For example, you may say, "Let's examine strategies to boost your performance and meet our goals," instead of, "There is an issue with your performance."

How Do You Write Negative Feedback Politely?

Emails can be impersonal, so it's crucial to apply caution to ensure that your words come across as professional and thoughtful, not harsh or hostile.

When feedback culture done well, it can be an essential tool for improving work performance. Here are some pointers on how to respectfully express criticism:

  • Use "I" statements: Use "I" sentences to express your views, worries, and suggestions rather than accusatory comments. This can assist in preventing a judgemental or accusing tone.

You may say, for instance, "I have seen that we are not meeting the expectations, and I would want to explore how we can improve," instead of "You are not meeting the expectations."

  • Include a compliment/Sandwich method: By recognizing something positive about the employee's work or behavior, you can soften the effect of the criticism you're about to make. Start with a compliment and end with one.

For example: "I've noticed you've been coming in early every day this week, great job!"

  • Avoid using insulting words: Never insult someone personally or degrade their character. Instead, concentrate on the particular action or problem that needs improvement.

For instance, you may say, "I have seen that there have been delays in completing work, and I would like to discuss strategies to remedy this," as opposed to, "You are lazy."

What Are Five Negative Words To Avoid In Emails?

In addition to the previously mentioned examples, here are five negative words to avoid when sending unfavorable criticism through email:

  • "Terrible" or "awful": These are very offensive words that may cause harm to the recipient. Instead, concentrate on certain shortcomings or make recommendations for improved performance.
  • "Incompetent" or "inept": These insulting words can lower the recipient's self-esteem. Use language that is impartial or helpful to convey places for improvement. 
  • "Unacceptable" or "failure": Instead, speak in a way that emphasizes discovering alternatives or solutions.
  • "Blame" or "fault": These words may cause the conversation to turn away from exploring answers and toward placing blame. Instead, highlight problem-solving and collaboration with your words.
  • "Disappointing" or "lackluster": These words can drain motivation and morale. Instead, focus on areas that require work and provide specific, constructive suggestions.

Here's some additional guidance:

1. What if the recipient reacts poorly to the email feedback?

Remain calm and professional. If their response is via email, avoid responding immediately.  Consider a call or in-person meeting to allow for a more nuanced conversation and address their concerns directly.

2. How can I best handle a situation where the recipient denies or downplays the issue?

Acknowledge their perspective without agreeing or disagreeing. Focus on specific examples and factual evidence in your email to support your observations. Offer to discuss the situation further to find common ground and solutions.

3. Is it appropriate to include the recipient's manager in the email, especially in critical situations?

Generally, address the issue directly with the recipient first. However, involving their manager might be necessary if:

  • The issue is severe or recurring.
  • Previous attempts at addressing the issue haven't been successful.
  • The feedback involves potential legal or ethical concerns requiring formal documentation.

4. How can I handle a scenario where the negative feedback involves a sensitive personal issue affecting their work?

Handle this with extreme sensitivity. If the issue directly impacts their work performance, carefully consider offering support and resources through company programs or an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If the issue is outside work boundaries, express your concern and respect for their privacy, and avoid delving into details.

5. When might it be more appropriate to deliver negative feedback in person instead of via email?

Consider in-person delivery if the feedback is highly sensitive, requires an in-depth discussion, or the recipient might misinterpret the email tone. However, following up with a concise email summarizing the key points discussed is still recommended.

6. Are there any legal considerations I need to be aware of when delivering negative feedback, particularly concerning sensitive topics like discrimination or harassment?

Absolutely. Consult your company's policies and legal department when dealing with sensitive topics to ensure your feedback aligns with company code and avoids any potential legal repercussions.

7. How can I ensure my email maintains confidentiality while addressing the necessary concerns?

Limit the email to the essential details needed to address the issue. Avoid publicly sharing specific details or mentioning unrelated personal information. If necessary, consider using blind carbon copy (BCC) when sending the email to multiple recipients.

8. What are some additional resources I can explore to further refine my email communication skills, particularly for delivering negative feedback?

Explore online resources and communication workshops on email etiquette, conflict resolution, and delivering constructive criticism. Consider professional development courses offered by your company or industry organizations.

9. What specific phrases or sentence starters can I use to effectively deliver constructive criticism within my emails?

Instead of accusatory statements, utilize phrases like:

  • "I've noticed..."
  • "I'm concerned about..."
  • "In my opinion,..."
  • "To help you improve, I recommend..."

10. How can I effectively follow up after sending an email with negative feedback, ensuring the recipient receives the intended message and feels supported in improvement?

Schedule a follow-up meeting or conversation to address any questions or concerns they might have. Reiterate your support and offer resources or guidance to help them improve in the specific areas mentioned in the email.

Remember, approaching negative feedback with empathy, clarity, and professionalism can create a positive outcome for everyone involved.

Mastering Constructive Criticism

Regardless of the situation, giving negative feedback to an employee can be tough. You want to be diplomatic, and you also want your message to get through loud and clear. But, in the end, there are some definite tricks to giving negative feedback over email.

As essential as it is to give negative feedback, it is equally important to ensure that the emotional weight of your criticisms doesn't damage your relationship. The more constructive your criticism, the better the chances of receiving it as intended. 

Remember that receiving and giving constructive feedback is essential to professional growth and development and can result in increased effectiveness and performance. You can implore feedback tools to enhance the effectiveness of your criticism. However, giving negative feedback requires caution, concern for the other person's viewpoint, and an emphasis on finding solutions to the immediate problem.

Create a climate that encourages honest and open communication and produces positive outcomes by using emotional intelligence and keeping your email uplifting.

Become a better manager by using Assembly's feedback tools. Try Assembly for Free today.

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Is Assembly SOC 2 compliant?

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There is study after study showing that employee recognition leads to increased engagement. This in return creates an environment where employees are happier and more motivated which increase productivity and reduces voluntary turnover significantly. In order to filled critical roles, companies tend to spend nearly twice the value of an annual salary. Assembly is an investment in your employees that supports your bottom line.

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What's your average adoption rate?

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