Job Interview Question

Tell me about a time when you had to give someone difficult feedback. How did you handle it?

How To Answer Interview Questions Series

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If you’re interviewing for a management-level job, you will almost certainly be asked this question at some point.  Nobody likes to give negative feedback, but if you supervise anyone, it’s a necessary evil.  Managers have to deliver both positive and negative feedback on almost a daily basis, depending on the size of the company and the group who reports to them.

Since delivering even the most constructive criticism can sometimes be a sensitive matter, it requires some higher-level communication skills to do it well.  Your future employer will want to know that you have those communication skills so that you can correct undesirable behavior or actions and still run a smooth ship.

They really want to know that you understand the nuances of this situation:  how others might take whatever feedback you’re giving them.  You have to think about how they might perceive what you’re saying, what the impact will be on them, what outcome you want, and what you might need to say to preface what you’re telling them in order to get that outcome.

They understand, and I hope you do too, that delivering negative feedback well is about being a little more aware than just delivering information.

It’s thinking about how they will react.  Will they receive this information well?

It’s about what you want them to do with the information once they have it, what you want the long-term effect to be.  How do you want them to move forward from here?

You always want to make sure that you ask questions that require them to indicate their understanding of what you said so that you can clarify that you communicated what you wanted to communicate.

So I think what they’re looking for in this question is that you understand that some situations require sensitivity, thinking it through, following up, and maybe even learning from not doing such a good job of giving that feedback.

Give them an example of a time you had to give someone negative feedback, but only as an illustration of your larger philosophical point of what it takes to deliver negative feedback well in order to get the change you’re looking for.

Show them that you approach it with forethought and sensitivity and with an eye toward communicating well in a positive manner—even though it’s a negative subject.


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