A 3-Step Formula for Giving Negative Feedback

Have you ever disliked the way a volunteer or staff member handled a situation?

Did you ever tell them?

There are many times that my answer to the first question was “Yes” and my answer to the second question was “No.” Let’s be frank: ministry leaders are not the best with things that can be perceived as conflict.

There is something about being a Christian that pulls us towards always being nice, not rocking the boat, and avoiding any situation that requires negativity. Maybe it’s because of what a 5-year-old told me recently when I asked him what Jesus is like.

“Jesus is nice.”

I guess I have to be the same.

When a volunteer or a staff member does not handle a situation well and it is obvious that your wisdom could help them out, then I think it is actually mean to not tell them the truth. The challenge is that sometimes we perceive feedback as negative.

In actuality, feedback is positive. If you are trying to correct their behavior, the feedback is positive because it is going to help them become a better minister and leader.

It is so easy to shy away from feedback as a ministry leader. The main reason is because we don’t know what to say or we don’t know how they will react.

Let’s handle the “what to say” part here. When you want to give a team member some negative feedback, follow this formula (which I learned from the guys at Manager Tools):

  1. “Can I give you some feedback?” Starting with this question helps you determine whether they are open to hearing your thoughts or not. If they say yes, continue on to step 2. If they say no, walk away.
  2. Be specific. Name the behavior that needs to change and follow that up with why the behavior was inappropriate. “When you don’t show up on time for the small group you lead, your small group feels like they are not important to you.” Don’t beat around the bush. Get straight to specifics and sum it up in one sentence. Once you name the specific behavior and the consequences of such behavior, you can immediately move to step 3.
  3. “Can you work on that, please?” Once you are specific about the behavior that needs to change, ask them to change. This simple question gets to the point and requires a yes or no answer. 99.99% of the time, your team member will say yes. Asking this question immediately minimizes the team members time to share an excuse. They may very well have a good reason for the behavior. However, the behavior was still inappropriate and change is required.

That’s it. You’re done. Your team member knows that their behavior was inappropriate and that it needs to change. If you use this formula, the likelihood of your team member reacting in a negative way is lessened because you handled it pastorally and professionally.

If you refuse to give this type of feedback, then the behavior will continue and often get worse. The sooner you give your team member feedback, the sooner the behavior will change.

Question: What’s the hardest part of giving “negative feedback to your volunteer or staff?

John Rinaldo

As the Business Manager at St. Catherine Catholic Church in Morgan Hill, CA, Dr. John Rinaldo serves as the administrator over operations and finances for the parish in support of all parish ministries. Previously, John served as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose, empowering parish communities to minister to the needs of youth and young adults. John is also an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University teaching pastoral ministry courses to graduate students.


John Rinaldo


As the Business Manager at St. Catherine Catholic Church in Morgan Hill, CA, Dr. John Rinaldo serves as the administrator over operations and finances for the parish in support of all parish ministries. Previously, John served as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose, empowering parish communities to minister to the needs of youth and young adults. John is also an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University teaching pastoral ministry courses to graduate students.



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