Need to deliver some negative feedback? 5 things to keep in mind

We’ve all been there.  A team member’s performance is slipping and needs to be addressed.  Before you set up a meeting to discuss the situation, here are a couple of questions to ask yourself:

  1. How clear were you with expectations?  Don’t expect an accountability conversation to go well if there is any fuzziness about what the goals were.  If you have concerns, use the time to re-clarify expectations.
  2. How is your relationship with the team member?  The right to be candid with a person about their performance is the byproduct of a strong working relationship featuring frequent conversations.  If your relationship has been more of a “no news is good news” relationship in the past, shore that up first.

If you are feeling good about where you stand with these first two questions, congratulations—this meeting should go well.  (I’m also guessing that your good work in these first two areas means you don’t have to have many of these types of conversations in the first place!) 

Now, there are just a few more finer points to consider when delivering potentially sensitive feedback.

  • Only give feedback on behaviors that can be changed (not on traits or personality).  Feedback works best when it is focused on behaviors instead of personality traits.  You shouldn’t be asking your people to make personality changes like,  “be more extroverted, or more feeling, or less linear in your thinking.”  Instead, focus on the things you see someone doing, or the things you hear someone saying. 
  • Remember that people are okay—it’s just their behavior that is a problem sometimes. As a manager you need to separate the behavior from the person.  Don’t be judgmental.  Keep the focus on the behavior that needs to change. Say what needs to be said and let it sink in.  Then reaffirm the person and move on with expectations that behavior will change and that the person is up to the challenge.
  • Help employees monitor their own behavior going forward.   Whenever possible, you want people to learn how to monitor their own behavior.  Teach them how to solicit feedback and be “participant observers” in their interactions with others.  Your goal is to help employees become self sufficient. You don’t want to create a dependent relationship where they are constantly looking for you to tell them how they are doing.

Providing feedback is one of the key ways that managers can improve performance and make things better at work. Don’t avoid feedback—even negative feedback. Done well, it will actually enhance your relationships at work. People will know you care and that their work is important.

PS: If you’d like to learn more about the finer points of delivering effective feedback, be sure to join The Ken Blanchard Companies for a free webinar on October 19.  That’s when senior consulting partner Phil Reynolds will be speaking on How to Deliver Feedback in a Way that Gets Results.  (Over 2,000 people are registered!) Click here for details.

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