How to Give Negative Feedback to an Employee

By Sherri Bennett, SPHR & SHRM-CP on Aug 06, 2020
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How to Give Negative Employee Feedback

Feedback is an essential part of growing a productive and successful team. Sure, it's great when you get to pat people on the back and tell them what a great job they're doing; that's the kind of feedback everybody loves to give and receive. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way, and sometimes, you have to give negative feedback, too. This is significantly less pleasant than its positive counterpart, but that doesn't mean it has to be painful. There are ideal ways to let staff members know they have opportunities of improvement without crushing their morale. Let's take a look.

5 Tips for Giving Negative Feedback to an Employee

1. Don't Wait a Year for the Annual Review

In the olden days, managers would wait until employees' annual reviews rolled around to discuss all the good or bad things they'd done throughout the past year. If you're still doing this, it's time to change your methodologies. Best practice is to bake feedback into your normal workflow and culture so employees become comfortable with these meetings. The sooner you can address issues, the sooner you can remedy them; if you wait an entire year, your employees might not even have reference points to something you've been stewing about for 12 months. Consistent, ongoing feedback sessions help eliminate the anxiety and fear that can otherwise exist around one-on-one meetings. 

are annual performance reviews really so last century

2. Offer Solutions, Not Blame

As a leader, it's your job to come up with solutions that can remedy the problem. Chances are, most employees aren't dropping the ball on purpose. Yes, there will always be those few who just don't care, but most people try their best and aren't looking for ways to derail production. This provides an opportunity to you, as a manager, to showcase your problem-solving skills and offer advice as to what can remove the bottlenecks in your employees' workflows. There are three keys to this aspect of negative feedback-giving:

  • Be empowering
  • Be forward-looking
  • Be motivating

For example, instead of saying, "You're missing too many deadlines," offer a solution. Approach the conversation with something like, "I noticed you've missed a few deadlines recently. Let's chat about what's causing those delays so you can stay on track next week." Be ready to have examples or ideas available to support the conversation.

3. Be Careful About Giving Compliment Sandwiches

A lot of people take the approach of starting and ending negative feedback conversations with all the great things an employee is doing to soften the blow. While this may feel like it makes the conversation more palatable, sometimes, the message can get confused by the recipient. A person might think they're not doing that bad if you've got all this great stuff to say. On the other hand, they can certainly soften the blow, and you do want people to know when they're doing a good job. This one is a lot tougher to balance than most people realize, but when you strike that balance, your negative feedback sessions will flow much more easily.

how to deal with an employee who didn't get the promotion

4. Teach Your Team How to Give You Meaningful Feedback

Okay, few things are scarier than telling your boss that he or she did something wrong. However, when you open this channel of communication and make it part of your culture, your employees will be less fearful of receiving their own negative feedback. You model the behavior you want to see from them, and they certainly will be watching how you behave and react when they offer suggestions that might be averse to something you said or did. They'll learn how to take negative feedback if they see how you accept it. 

If you have an employee who's struggling, start by asking some prompting questions, such as:

  • What's working well for you?
  • What's not working?
  • What do you need from me to help you succeed?

5. Be Open to the Idea of Transparency

Feedback isn't meant to be a two-way conversation, so to speak, but the employee should be allowed to state his or her side of the story. You might find out he or she is having difficulties at home, suffering health issues, or has a problem with another coworker, of which you were previously unaware. While these aren't excuses for dropping the ball at work, they can certainly explain a lot of things, and once you know the full story, you can work on finding ways to help that employee overcome his or her obstacles. Some of the problems might be work-related while others might not, but in the end, if the person's work performance is suffering, it's all eventually related to their job.

If you're struggling to find the right ways to deliver negative feedback to your team, our HR professionals are here to help. Reach out to Axcet HR Solutions today to learn how we can help you get your team going in the right direction.

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