3 clever consulting phrases for negative feedback

Time to Change Course

Giving negative feedback is hard. This post will make it a little easier by introducing three phrases you can use to give feedback while still showing respect for their effort.

These phrases are great for talking to junior colleagues, your team or a client. If you haven't used these phrases, then it's a good idea to test-run them with your teacher before trying them in a business setting.

1.  "Directionally correct"

Meaning it's broadly correct, but they've missed some details. Functionally, you can use it two ways.

  • Someone has tried to do something right, but failed to do so.
  • The analysis is correct in its broad conclusions, but the numbers are wrong. 

Here is how you can use it:

Example 1:  What you did here is directionally correct, but not exactly what we were hoping for.

Example 2:  Let's not get too hung up on the details. This overview is directionally correct, so it should be okay.

2.  "The right road, but the wrong direction"

Meaning the overall idea is right, but every action from there is wrong. It means that someone made a huge mistake. 

Example:  You are on right road, but you took the wrong direction.  Let's backtrack and start again.

3.  "Tighten up" or "clean up"

Meaning the task is 80-90% finished, but it's not done yet. If it is some kind of a report, you may need to make sure your grammar and spelling are correct, or cut out unnecessary information.

Example 1:  This is a great start, but let's tighten it up.

Example 2:  The analysis is good, but we're going to have to clean it up a bit before giving it to the client.

These expressions are one step towards giving negative feedback well. You also need to understand cultural aspects, like how to talk to colleagues, superiors and subordinates. Finally, you need practice. So, work with your teacher and use these phrases. 

If you are a consultant and this task is important, check out the lessons on feedback, specifically unit 6.3 giving spoken feedback.

Chances are you are on the right track with giving feedback, but you may need to clean them up a little.

Needless to say—a phrase we use before we are about to say something we feel is quite obvious.  Other versions of this are: this goes without saying, but... / Obviously, / Of course,...
nuggetread this blog post for the definition and examples!
backtrack—go back over a course or path