As a manager, perhaps one of the most dreaded parts of your job is giving critical feedback to team members. No one wants to hear that they're doing a bad job, and no one really enjoys being the one to tell it. But, if you want your team to grow and succeed, dealing with shortfalls is a necessity.
Your feedback won't mean much to employees if they didn't understand your expectations to begin with. "Feedback needs a baseline," says Brett Farmiloe, CEO of digital marketing company Markitors.
"For you to give negative feedback, a team member must have fallen short of a baseline. It's important to establish agreeable metrics so that team members know where they stand. If the metrics are reinforced, then a team member already knows negative feedback is coming, making it much easier for managers to deliver and identify solutions on how to improve," he says.
Be inspirationally honest.
"Keep the conversation focused on finding a solution rather than solely communicating a problem," suggests Cassie Petrey, co-founder of music-focused marketing firm Crowd Surf. You need to be truthful about how your employee is missing the mark, but that doesn't mean you can't keep a positive tone.
"I've found that it's often not what you say but how you say it," Petrey adds. "It's important to be honest with people about your expectations for them. However, it's also important to keep a positive tone. Give them ideas and inspiration for fixing the problem rather than just conveying what the problem is."
If you want to see real results, you need to be clear with employees when there is a problem. That's why Vincenzo Villamena, CEO of U.S. expat tax service Online Taxman, recommends taking a direct approach.
"The best way to give feedback is to be honest, direct and as specific as possible on examples of the issue and what you would have done. It's important not to be nasty, but it's equally as important not to sugarcoat a real problem. The goal is improvement, not babying your employees," he says. "Good feedback is just as important as negative feedback."
Level with the person.
One of the most effective ways to communicate with subordinates is to make sure they know you're human, too. It's okay to let employees see your flaws, especially if doing so may help them find new ways to improve their own performances.
"Face it," says Baruch Labunski, CEO of SEO specialist Rank Secure. "We've all done something negative at some point. No one likes to be patronized by someone at the top. It's common sense that you didn't get to where you are now by smiling pretty for a camera. The best option you have in giving negative feedback is using yourself as a buffer. Explain a time when you made a similar goof, what the consequences were and how that affected you."
Always be respectful.
"Approach the team member with respect, don't interrupt and hear them out," instructs Jared Atchison, co-founder of WordPress form builder WPForms. If you find yourself in the position of giving negative feedback, consider the possibility that you're missing a piece of the puzzle, and respect your team members enough to let them communicate their side.
"Perhaps you don't have the full story and they can fill you in on some road blocks that you can help eliminate," Atchison says. "Listen more than you talk so you can understand the full picture. This will help you be proactive so the problem doesn't continue happening with this team member or others in the future."
Consider that 'negative feedback' is a misnomer.
"Calling it 'negative' feedback reifies the idea that constructive feedback has to be difficult and emotionally challenging. It doesn't have to be," notes Peggy Shell, CEO of talent acquisition firm Creative Alignments. Feedback is crucial, especially if you're seeing a recurring problem, but that doesn't mean the process needs to be negative.
"Constructive feedback is just the sharing of knowledge for the sake of growth, and that is a positive and necessary thing. If negativity (shame, blame, harshness) accompanies your feedback, then you're only adding unnecessary pain to the process," Shell adds.