How to Give Tough Feedback (Without Being Mean)

The best advice I ever received about giving feedback came from a former editor (and champion, and role model, and boss) of mine. I was crafting one of my first emails to a contributor to share feedback on their article and it was--unwittingly--harsh.

My boss' advice: Add "you idiot" to the end of lines of feedback and see whether or not they read naturally.

Compare the following sentences:

Section two was hard to follow and felt unrelated to the rest of the piece.

Section two would be stronger with an anecdote that tied the advice back to the overall theme of the article.

"You idiot" fits pretty naturally with the first, but not with the second.

So often, people talk about how challenging it is to know how an email is coming off. But this simple communication tip can make all the difference. If you find you've written some
"you idiot" lines, rewrite them until the message remains but those two words no longer fit. This will help you avoid hurt feelings and awkward confrontations down the line.