Most of us can easily spot flaws with others, however small they are. But we struggle to see our own mistakes and imperfections, be it at work, in relationships, or in any other sphere of our existence. What is more, each human being sees the world through a unique pair of eyes, shaped by everything they’ve seen, and experienced since coming to this world. Bearing it in mind, feedback isn’t only important. It is essential, and we can hardly progress in our endeavors without hearing out what the others think, and have to say to us. That’s why you may face several questions about feedback while interviewing for any job.
The hiring managers may ask you either about a time when you received a difficult feedback, or about a time when you had to give a difficult feedback to someone, or an occasion when you had to share a disappointing news. Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to the second question right now, which will work well for the third one as well. I tried to include on my list both conventional and unconventional answers, fitting different levels of experience, various interview scenarios, and most importantly, expressing different attitudes. I hope you will find at least one that resonates with you. Do not forget to check also my notes below the answers for additional explanation.
7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time when you had to give someone difficult feedback” interview question
- I recall a situation from my last job of a supervisor. One employee tried really hard–you could see it, the job mattered to them, and they apparently cared a lot about what the others thought of them. But they had no system in work, and despite their effort and the fact that they stayed overtime almost daily, they did not produce the desired results. I had to tell them, and it was difficult. I started with praise. I recognized their effort and thanked them for staying overtime. Then I came to the bad news, and explained them why they under-performed regardless of their effort. I tried to share my message in a sensitive way. But as I said before, they cared a lot about what the others thought of them, and found it hard to accept my message. Nevertheless, I had to tell them, because it was my duty, and I would do the same thing again.
- Probably the most difficult one was when I had to terminate the contract of one of my subordinates. We experienced some budget cuts, and one person had to go. I was responsible to choose the one who had to leave, and I made my choice, following the results of all employees. The thing was that the guy had a young family, and struggled with money. But I had to deliver them the disappointing news, and give them the negative feedback on their work, and send them packing. It wasn’t an easy situation, but at the same time I’ve learned years ago that emotions have no place in an effective management. I delivered my message, they were extremely upset and said some bad words to me, but that’s something a manager has to count with…
- I had to give such feedback to my superior, in my last job in a warehouse. Speaking honestly, it was a tricky situation. The manager was younger than me. They were smart and ambitious, but lacked real experience with logistics. And I knew that the way they told us to organize the stock in the warehouse was not the most effective one. Instead of boasting in front of my colleagues that I knew better than the manager, I arranged a one on one with them. I told them my ideas in private, explaining how we could make the warehouse operation more effective. At the end of the day, I had ten years of experience from warehouses under my belt. They thanked me, and sent me back to work. They eventually didn’t proceed with my suggestions. I do not know why, but for me it was the end of the story. I gave them my feedback, but at the same time I respected the hierarchy in the warehouse. They had the final word, and they were responsible for our results. All I could do from my position was sharing my feedback with them. And that’s what I did.
- I had to give such a feedback to a colleague from the same working group. The problem was not their work, but their attitude to one woman in the team. They treated her like garbage, lacking any empathy. I knew they would not like my words, but I had to tell them, because their behavior had a negative impact on the atmosphere in the entire team, and they did not realize it. I was very direct, told them exactly what I thought, but without emotions. Of course they responded angrily, defending themselves, saying I was wrong, and didn’t understand. But I kept my line and stayed calm. Eventually they improved their behavior to the woman in question, and I am happy that I was not afraid to give them my feedback.
- This is my first job application, and I do not really have experience with giving a difficulty feedback to anyone, or sharing disappointing news with a group of people. However, I understand that an organization cannot be successful, unless feedback flows freely in all directions, regardless of the ranks of employees. And this is something I want to stick to in my job with you. I won’t hesitate to give a negative feedback to anyone in the company, and I am also ready to receive such a feedback from anyone. At the end of the day, we cannot progress without giving and receiving feedback.
- I had to give a difficult feedback to my boyfriend. You know, we’ve been together for five years, and our relationship means a world to me. But after some time he almost stopped taking care of himself, not shaving regularly, not cutting his nails, even not taking showers on most days. Maybe he took our relationship for granted, because, after all, he knew I loved him. But I had to tell him, because I am still a woman and like when a man takes care of his looks and health. It was tough for me to tell him, and sure enough he didn’t find it easy to accept my words. But honest communication is one of the foundation stones of each good relationship, at least in my view. He eventually started to take good care of himself, and we were both happy. Just for the record, we are still together.
- I just gave such a feedback one hour ago, when I stopped in a small coffee shop on my way to the interview with you. 10 am, I was the only customer in the small coffee at the corner. But it still took the waitress five minutes to attend my table, and then ten minutes to make the cappuccino. You know, she had the charisma and everything, seemed to enjoy her job. But she was playing with her smartphone half the time, and that’s not something she can afford if she want to keep the job. Hence I told her, and I was even a bit harsh–maybe because I was nervous before the interview, or I don’t know. Anyway, I apologized for my tone and left the place, and I hope she learned a lesson and won’t lose her job just because she cares more about the messages on her phone than about the customers…
Show them that you can give difficult feedback in a right way
Giving someone a difficult feedback can easily backfire, especially when you do not use the right words. When narrating the situation, ensure the hiring managers that you did your best to not make it personal, to focus on the issue (low performance, bad attitude, not taking care of a certain task, etc), rather than on the person you gave a difficult feedback to.
You can also emphasize that you tried to choose the right words, perhaps you even praised them before criticizing them, because at the end of the day, everyone does at least something well, and we can always balance criticism with praise.
You can also say that you shared the feedback in private, in a one on one meeting. It is much better for the criticized party than sharing the feedback in a team meeting, or directly in the workplace when everyone listens… Show the hiring managers that you do not struggle giving difficult feedback, but always try your best to make sure you won’t burn the bridges with your words, won’t hurt the feelings of the person in question…
* Special Tip: This isn’t the only difficult question you will face while interviewing for any decent job. You will face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, dealing with ambiguity, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will make your life much easier in the interviews. Thank you for checking it out!
You can give feedback, but also receive a difficult one. You can share bad news, but are also ready to hear and accept such news
Other important thing to mention is that while you do not struggle sharing your feedback, you are also receptive to the feedback from others. You can just add it to your answer.
For example, once you describe a situation in which you gave an important feedback to someone–maybe telling them something they did not enjoy hearing, you can add that you also got some negative feedback from your colleagues (or hope to get it in your new job), and embrace such feedback, because it helps you progress in your work.
Situations from outside of work are always a good choice
When answering any scenario-based question, you do not have to limit yourself with examples from the workplace. Maybe you are just starting your professional career, or simply haven’t experienced a fitting situation in your last job.
In such a case, you should talk about a situation from school (giving a difficult feedback to your teacher), or from personal life (to your boyfriend), or even from your ordinary daily life, like the applicants from answer no. 7, when they gave a difficult feedback to a waitress in a coffee shop.
Remember that your attitude matters more than the situation you narrate. And you can demonstrate the right attitude talking about any situation.
Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also 7 sample answers to the following questions:
- Tell me about a time when you have exceeded customer’s expectations.
- What’s he most difficult feedback you have received?
- Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to the problem.