How to Answer 'How Would You Give Difficult Feedback?'

As with so many interview questions, this one is very likely to throw you off if you haven’t practised an answer to it in advance. Interview questions that require you to have an example taken from your own work experiences are much harder to answer, and when in a stressful setting, can make it difficult to recall specific examples to use in your response. However, with a bit of practise, this question should be overcome without too much pain.

Am I likely to be asked this interview question?

This interview question is usually asked during interviews for management level positions. In fact, this question will almost certainly be asked during interviews for any position that may require you to supervise, manage or support a team.

Why do they want to know how I handle giving feedback to others?

Quite often the feedback you have to give someone will be negative feedback, and so what the interviewer is trying to discover with this question, is how you handle these difficult situations. Anyone who is managing or supervising other people will undoubtedly have to provide feedback at some point, and it is vital for employers to know that you are capable of communicating constructively at this level.

Points to consider when tailoring your answer

Feedback is important, but your delivery of feedback can sometimes be more vital than the point you are trying to make. Poor delivery can result negatively in many ways, so it is important that you are critical yet constructive, but also clear and to the point.

Even providing constructive criticism can be taken the wrong way by someone, so your communication skills need to be brilliant. They want to know that you are fully aware of how different people will react to your negative feedback and that you can correct their problems while still keeping the office running smoothly.

Here are some tips for you to pinpoint when tailoring your response to the interview question:

  • It is best to start with positive points about the individual before moving on to the issues that need to be worked on. This will help break the ice and create an open atmosphere for all those involved to put forward their concerns. (Consider a time when you had to ‘break the ice gentle when giving feedback)
  • It is important to tell the individual that they are valued and that all feedback is given to help that person improve and excel.
  • Typical feedback conversations tend to be held in a private space away from other co-workers, and will have another person present to ensure there is someone 'impartial' to keep the feedback appropriate. (Explain the set up for when you gave the feedback)
  • Ensure that you make it clear to the interviewer that you always ask the person questions that forces them to clarify that they understand that each bit of feedback that you are giving them. This way you can be sure that you have communicated the message that you wanted to communicate. (Provide examples as to how you ensure the individual understood your feedback)

Whilst there is no single, standard response that you can learn off by heart for this interview question, you can use these best practises of how to answer this question to ensure you meet the expectations of the interviewer and apply it to your own experience.