Delivering negative feedback to your employees can be awkward, uncomfortable, and a little intimidating. As a manager, you may find yourself avoiding these conversations in an effort to spare employees’ feelings, or to preserve good working relationships.
We understand your dilemma. However, we’re here to tell you that you aren’t doing your employee any favors by withholding constructive criticism about where he or she needs to improve. Think about it: their performance, behavior, or attitude isn’t up to par, and by avoiding the uncomfortable conversation, you’re depriving them of the opportunity to make necessary changes. It isn’t fair to them or to you. In the worst case scenario, you could even be setting them up for termination due to nonperformance.
We advocate providing constructive feedback regularly, rather than waiting for a formal review. That being said, you DO need to pay attention to the language you use when having these types of conversations.
Avoid any language that might be discriminatory according to state or federal labor law. A good rule of thumb is to be factual and limit your comments to the employee’s PERFORMANCE, rather than PERSONALITY, as these types of remarks can be interpreted as a personal attack. An example of words to avoid would be descriptions such as “sloppy” or “messy,” which sound like value judgments rather than appraisals of performance.
Guidelines and Suggestions:
Start off by getting right to the point. Say something like, “The purpose of our meeting is…” OR “I called you here to discuss…”
Next, outline where you are going with the conversation. Use openings such as, “I have a concern about…” OR “There’s a problem with…”
After that, fill the employee in with what you know about the situation or performance gap. Preface your thoughts with phrases such as, “I saw…” OR “When I was informed of the problem, I looked into it by…”
Next, carefully outline the consequences that await if there is no improvement in performance or a change in behavior. Try using phrases like, “If I see no improvement...” OR “According to company policy…”
After you have communicated the problem and shared the consequences, you need to hear what the employee has to say. Invite such dialogue with questions such as, “That’s my take on the situation, but what is your view?” OR “Is that the way you see things?” When discussing the situation, be careful not to use phrases such as, “I understand,” which can be misinterpreted to sound like you accept poor performance.
Next, communicate a plan of action. Be as clear as possible, using phrases like, “You must…” OR “By our next meeting, you will have…”
Finally, summarize the conversation from both ends, finishing up with an outline of each person’s responsibilities going forward. Use starters such as, “You will…” and “I will…” Always commit to following up on the employee’s progress, and set your next meeting before you wrap up.