First, it’s important to know whether your interview will have the question, “Tell me about a time you had to give someone difficult feedback.”
Not every interview will include this question.
It depends on the kind of job you are applying for.
However, if you are interviewing for a position that will require you to supervise or manage others, you are almost guaranteed to be asked about a time when you had to give someone difficult feedback.
The Reason Behind the Question
First of all, why are you being asked how you handle this situation?
Offering effective feedback or critiques is not an exact science.
It requires tact, empathy, and (importantly) experience.
Your interviewer wants to determine your skills in such circumstances.
- Do you come across as awkward, or worse, tactless?
- Or do you have the abilities to address issues and motivate others during difficult times?
If you’ve been in delicate managerial situations before, you know that supervising others often necessitates difficult conversations.
As a manager or supervisor, the ball falls directly in your court during those times.
If you are uncomfortable with approaching others in these situations, you probably wouldn’t make a great manager.
But if you know how to give someone difficult feedback with tact and grace, you have a highly-prized skill.
How to Answer This Question
Focus on the distinct personality traits that make you a great people person.
Good managers are great with other people.
They are well-liked, honest, trustworthy, and most importantly, they have the ability to lead in difficult situations.
Make sure you emphasize these traits when providing your example.
Here are some techniques that a great manager would practice during a situation that called for giving difficult or negative feedback to a staff member.
1. Be specific
One of the worst things you could do during your interview is to give vague responses.
As we will demonstrate with a sample response below, you’ll want to provide specifics.
You should tell the whole story so the employer knows:
- The situation leading up to your negative feedback
- The positive outcome that resulted from your feedback
Showing your interviewer that you prepared a strategy before you offered the negative feedback is a great way to show that you care.
It also shows you are not an impulsive manager who neglects planning.
Lack of preparation in a situation like this could be devastating for yourself and the person you are offering feedback to.
You can begin your response with something like this:
Describe a time you had to give someone difficult feedback.
A couple of years ago, I gave a new staff member the task of compiling and sending out our monthly e-newsletter.
She used images with very high resolution, which affected the newsletter’s formatting, making it unreadable for subscribers. We had several people unsubscribe as a result.
Rather than immediately confronting her, I put together a folder of lower-resolution images that she could use for future newsletters.
3. Stay constructive
Even when you have to give someone difficult feedback, you want to make sure you stay positive.
This is something you should demonstrate as a strength during the interview.
You might continue the above response with something like this:
I know negative feedback is hard to hear, especially when it’s someone’s first attempt at a task, so I wanted to make it a little easier.
I met with this employee and started the conversation with something good she had done.
I took note of a couple of strong points in the newsletter; the lead story she had chosen and the organization of her material were both excellent and I told her that before mentioning the formatting issues.
Many people teach the “sandwich” approach to giving critiques or corrections:
- Start with positive
- Proceed to the negative feedback
- End with something positive
The positive is the bread, and the negative is the meat/cheese.
4. Act comfortable
I cannot tell you how many people get awkward in these sorts of situations.
Even if you feel a little awkward actually giving negative feedback, do not make it seem that way in the interview.
The hiring manager is going to want to know that you are extremely comfortable in these sorts of situations.
Someone who second-guesses their judgment and feedback will not make for a great leader.
You can finish up your response to this interview question with something like:
I explained the formatting problems to her, showing her on my phone how the newsletter would have appeared to readers.
She expressed that she had been aware of the problem, but wasn’t sure how to fix it.
I showed her how to do that, and emailed her the folder with low-res images. I also gave her the name of another staff member who could assist with the e-newsletter next time around.
The following month, there were no problems, and I stopped by her office to compliment her on a job well done.
The sample response above ends with a positive outcome.
It also shows a supervisor who is concerned and takes the time to teach skills to staff members.
Convey that you know how to be firm with your feedback, but that you also remember to keep it constructive.
You Got This!
Don’t worry; if you have dealt with these situations in the past, then answering this interview question should be a walk in the park!
You are going to do just fine.
If you only remember one sentence from this article, remember to …
Be specific, prepare, stay constructive, and act comfortable.
(For more interviewing tips, make sure to check out the 50 Top Job Interview Questions And Answers.)
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