Tell me about a time when you had to give difficult feedback? – Interview Question with Answers

interview question with answer

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I assume that most of you would not have come across this question during his or her interview. That is total because this is not some general or common type of interview question that every interviewer asks from every candidate. This depends on the type of work that you have done and also the type of work that you are applying to. For example, you will not come across this question in case you are not applying to any supervising job. But if you are expected to be a manager at some company, then the interviewer will surely ask such a question from you.

Now, you may have read this question for the first time here and may not feel confident enough about answering it in an interview at this point. But, trust me, after going through this article you will be well familiar with every bit that is required to form an impressive answer to this question. You may have faced a situation when you gave negative feedback to someone at work just because you were angry with him or her or you may have given extra-polite feedback to someone who deserved criticism. Or the case can also be that you may not even have done either of the two.

What the interviewer is trying to judge?

What does the interviewer get to do with your experience of giving feedback to someone? Does it depict something about you? Well, on the face of it, you will feel like it does not depict any such thing but, it does in a way. Read the following to know about the reasons as to why interviewers ask this question:

1. How you handled the situation: Most of the time when you are to give feedback to someone, it is a negative one. So, the interviewer is interested in knowing about how you handled such a difficult situation.

2. How constructively you deliver: As we all know, criticism can be a constructive one and a negative one. The interview wants to know how effective are you in communicating negative criticism. Can you communicate in such a way as it seems to be a constructive one?

3. Communication skills: A manager or a supervisor needs some special skills of communication to communicate matters to the junior levels. So, the interviewer wants to know whether or not you possess those special skills?

4. Suitability to the job: As mentioned earlier that this question is not expected in every kind of interview. But if you are applying to a job that needs you to work as a supervisor then the interviewer will ask this question from you to know how suitable you are in terms of job requirements.


What would be the pre-requisites for answering this question? Would it be just mentioning of some incident that relates to a time when you had to give feedback to someone? Not exactly. Read the following points to know about it:

1. Remember the situation: What was the situation when you had to give feedback to any of your subordinates or any other person. With this respect, you need to be clear on what was your authority at that moment and how responsible was the other person on that matter.

2. Why you did so? Okay well one of the reasons for giving feedback to someone can be because you wanted the work to be perfect and since the work did not meet your expectation, you had to give difficult feedback. But one of the other several reasons can be that you wanted the person to improve and you see potential in him or her. If that is the case then do mention your reason in the interview.

3. The aftereffect: What was the aftereffect of that feedback that you provided to the person? Was the purpose of feedback served or not? Did he or she perform well the next time?

Tips on what to include and what to avoid

About what to INCLUDE:

Here are some of the traits that you may emphasize on while answering this question:

1. Being specific: One of the mistakes that you will do during your interview is giving vague responses. The ambiguity in your responses makes the interviewer less interested in you. Be specific about the situation and the feedback that you felt was difficult.

2. Mention how constructive you were: Yeah! Okay! Giving harsh and difficult feedbacks can be part of your job but that negativity can be made constructive with good communication skills. What change you motivated in your subordinate of the person that will encourage him or her to perform well next time.

3. Act comfortable and confident: You have not committed any sin if you have given difficult feedback to someone. And it’s completely okay that your interviewer asked about it and you had to mention one of the negative experiences. Juts act comfortable and confident with a sense that whatever you did you did well.

4. What was criticism all about: Not mentioning the root of criticism is the mistake that most of the candidates do. You have to be certain and specific of your answer and this factor counts in.

Things to AVOID

The question asks for a criticism that you have provided in your career to someone on his or her work. But there are certain things that you may avoid and end this answer on a positive note to impress the interviewer. Those things are as follows:

1. Do not ignore the question: Do not ignore this question by saying that you have never criticized anybody at work and that you have always believed in giving positive feedbacks to everyone whats ever the quality of work be. You are losing your chance to prove that you can provide difficult cum constructive feedback.

2. Being dishonest: If you think you can do away with this question by some imaginable story, then, my friend, you are certainly with the wrong mindset. This is something that you have to remind of your previous job or responsibility as a manager or supervisor. Interviewers are good at sniffing lie in such questions.

3. Excessive detailing: Re-read the first point mentioned above; ‘being specific’. Here, being specific does not mean that you will go deep into details about the situation and your feedback. Excessive of detailing will look unprofessional during your interview. Keep it specific and brief.

Preparing your answer

How to hook up various segments of the answer together to form a collective impressive answer? Here is a sequence that you may follow:

1. Mention your duty: So, this all starts from here. Your job. What was it? Who all were your subordinates and what was expected at the end of your subordinates? You have to mention this because the interviewer must be interested in knowing that in what capacity you provided feedback to others?

2. What was the situation? You cannot go on saying that ‘you were superior to one of the subordinates and you felt like criticizing someone someday and you did!’ no. Rather you have to mention and explain the circumstances which led to you giving negative or difficult feedback to someone.

3. How you tackled it? So, was the act of criticizing the person your first and last option? Or you had some other options than giving difficult feedback? Explain how well you handled the situation. Explain how you converted negative feedback into a constructive one.

4. Positive effect: In this segment mention the positive effect that was seen or the expected result that took place after you were done with your duty of providing the feedback. Usually adding this segment to one’s answer, one is giving a positive connotation to the answer.

Sample Answers

Example: 1
Regarding this, I remind you of an incident when I was a manager of the research and development department in my previous company. My team was given a task to develop a new variety of shakes that will attract more customers during summertime. Usually, my company used to deal with milkshakes that people would love mostly during winters. And I knew my term had worked hard because I had seen them doing so. But when I tasted that new drink, I was disappointed. I mean that was not something which we could serve to customers. I was required to give negative feedback there. But I ensured to keep them motivated so that they don’t lose hopes and try again.

Example: 2
Yes, there was a time when I had to give difficult feedback to a person and that person happened to be my peer or you can say, colleague. And this very fact made that feedback very difficult for me to encounter. It was when we both were to present a topic to senior management of the organization and she took on the responsibility of creating the presentation. However, it came out to be an unexpectedly below average kind of presentation. And to the worst, we had only a day away from the day of finally presenting the presentation. I had no other option but to say words of dissatisfaction to her.

Example: 3
Having handled the post of a leader many times in my career I have often encountered such situations where I was to provide difficult feedback or criticism, to be more specific. I have given hard-to-digest feedback to my subordinates as well as peers at the workplace. It is not like that I enjoying finding faults in their works but I try to be as honest as possible. And I am aware of the fact that they may not understand the reason behind my harsh feedback right after receiving it but I am sure they will get that I gave harsh feedback to them to help them improve.

Example: 4
I believe feedback has a great role in improvements. Be it a person, be it any business or any venture of life; one is required to get honest feedback from the people around him or her to work on the shortcomings and be better with each passing day. I too had to give feedbacks to the works of some of the trainees who were doing their training under me during my previous job. They all were hard-working youngsters but irresponsible somehow. I had to choose a stricter way to improve this nature of theirs and I am sure that this will happen.

Example: 5
Feedbacks can be positive and negative. I believe negative feedback should be the last choice one can look up to because this is a delicate situation when you give negative feedback to someone. The person might feel highly motivated or completely demotivated all at once. However, constructive feedback is a way out where we combine a negative and a positive comment as feedback. I use this technique often whenever required to provide a review of someone’s performance in the organization. Since this is a combination of two, this does not let a person feel demotivated at all.

Example: 6
I do not hold any work experience, so I cannot relate to this question in a much professional way. But I would like to answer this question with one of the incidences that I have had on my college campus. I was given a duty to handle an event of the placement cell of our college. We were required to interact with the industry experts and stay in touch with our professors. I handed over duties to all the volunteers in my team. But, the next day when that event was to happen, I found them to be very confused even with the basic detail those I conveyed to them. This frustrated me a lot that I seriously needed to comment negatively on their work style.

Example of a bad answer

Example: 1
I do not think that I have ever come across such a situation in my career and in-fact in my life because the duty of providing feedback about the performances of the employees in a company is of a manager and I have never handled any such responsibility ever. I look forward to joining your organization and discover such opportunities in the future.

Example: 2
Oh well, yes! I had a chance of providing feedback to the performances of some of the interns who came to our company for learning skills. But, those interns were not worth it. They were inefficient and lazy in their works. So, I made it sure to give them the harsh comments in their reports.

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