How to Give Unpleasant Feedback Without Sounding Like an A-Hole

As a strong personality from New Jersey, I’ve been known to give some “real talk” about things I don’t care for or agree with. After living in Houston for a few years, I faced the hard truth that not everyone appreciated my direct form of feedback. Whether you’re like me and feel misunderstood or find yourself jumping on the “Complain Train” I’ve got some tips and tricks for you to reframe and recondition yourself into a healthier habit.


If you were on the receiving end of a conversation with yourself giving unpleasant information, how would describe it?

Appreciated for the Honesty      

Unfortunate, but Understandable

Just the Facts, Ma’am

What is she talking about?

Am I in trouble?

Man, I feel like shit.


If anything is down line from “Unfortunate, but Understandable” we may have a little work to do. As I heard in my recent training class The Only Good Feedback is That Which is Heard. If your intended message isn’t heard, then both parties may be left feeling unsatisfied, frustrated or possibly hurt.


If You’ve Been Accused of Being Cold…

1)      Know Your Audience – Does this group/person need time to process or ask questions? Do they need more details to understand?

2)      Know Your Purpose – If the news isn’t great (company merger, new policy) do some research on the rationale behind it. It may not matter to you, but it helps when you can help people understand where things are and where they stand.

3)      Allow Time and Space – If you would only need 5 minutes to heard it, block of 20 for someone else. When we’re rushed or focusing on efficiencies, we take the human element out.

4)      Put Yourself in Their Shoes – If empathy isn’t a strong suit, imagine that your closest confidant just received this news, what do you think they would feel or need to know?

5)      Don’t Crack Jokes or Try to Make the Situation Light – Nothing is worse than when some tells an inappropriate joke or smiles when everyone else is serious. It’s a major red flag that you’re uncomfortable and potentially a bit immature. Just because you’re ready to move on from the topic, doesn’t mean everyone else is.

6)      Model the Behavior You Wish to See – Treat others with dignity, respect and kindness.

7)      Be Authentic – When you can connect with people on a real level, it provides comfort and builds trust. It’s not about tactics or processes. People want to trust who they work with. This is an opportunity for you to emerge and establish yourself as a trusted, respected and inspirational leader.


If You’ve Been Accused of Being Rude or Brash…

1)      Watch Your Tone – If you wouldn’t talk to your grandmother with that tone, you have no business using it with anyone else. The person who remains in control emotionally has the power of influence on their hand. Once you fly off the handle, you are no longer in control.

2)      Listen more than you speak – For everything you say, ask an open-ended question to get their feedback on the statement. If you are dominating the conversation, people can feel insignificant, marginalized and rejected.  

3)      Look for the Opportunity to Improve the Situation – Come with suggestions yourself and ask for other input.

4)      Bring the Other Person in for Ideas and Suggestions – This is KEY to buy in and the number one reason why people don’t stay at companies or feel included. Give them a space for their voice to be heard.

5)      LISTEN – You get the idea.


If People You’ve Been Accused of Being Insincere, Fake or Phony…

1)      Be Yourself – Stop playing the role of perfect employee or People-Pleaser Boss. No one’s buying it and people don’t trust you.

2)      Ask Yourself If You Believe What’s Coming Out of Your Mouth

3)      Ask Others for Honest Feedback

4)      Whatever You’re Trying to Hide, Expose It – Shame and fear of exposure is a huge part of Imposter Syndrome and a leading cause of disconnect in relationships. People pick up on the avoidance and attempt to cover up something and form distrust. This goes back to people-pleasing. It doesn’t work. It’s exhausting. You will burn out at some point.


I’m sure there are more than three profiles to cover on this topic, so if you have any examples, feel free to send them over and I’ll take a stab at it.

If you are one of those profiles, try any of the tips and tricks and see how they work for you.