How to Deliver Uncomfortable Employee Feedback

If you manage employees, chances are at one point or another you will have to address conflicts, which can lead to some uncomfortable employee feedback. These situations can be delicate and the way you handle them will determine whether or not it will result in positive change. Here are some tips on how to deliver uncomfortable employee feedback:

Let them talk first

Give them an opportunity to evaluate themselves before you tell them anything. Often they realize poor mistakes they are making within the company, so this is a great opportunity for you to see if you and your employee are seeing eye to eye and opens the door to discussion rather than you dropping bad news on them.

Ask questions

Create a discussion by asking them questions that help them come to the realization of what is wrong rather than you telling them. If they’re asking for a promotion ask them what skills they feel they have to deserve it. If they’re having conflicts with another employee ask them what they think the other employee is feeling. This keeps the discussion open ended and gives you clarification that you are both on the same page.

Make sure they are clear on what is happening

It’s never a good idea to catch an employee off guard when delivering uncomfortable feedback. Invite them to meet with you so you can provide some feedback. Give them notice ahead of time so they can mentally prepare for a potentially uncomfortable situation. Talking in person is always best, but following up with a written recap in an email is a good idea to enforce a point. Don’t be afraid of asking your employee to repeat feedback in their own words so you know they did not misunderstand.

Focus on the future

Don’t dwell on the problem, but focus on the solution and what steps can be made to resolve the problem. You are not just “delivering feedback,” you are facilitating a change. Come up with a plan with your employee for what will happen moving forward from this point and how it will be different (and better) than how it has been in the past, whether that means, “Moving forward, we will have weekly timesheet evaluations” or “Moving forward, we will place you under [other employee’s] supervision.” Try to focus on the positive outcome the change will create rather than the negative it is trying to fix.

Be compassionate but be clear

It is often difficult for employees to hear uncomfortable feedback. Be aware that they might be upset. Prepare to be empathetic and present the feedback as gently as possible, but be firm and clear in your delivery. Make sure there is no misunderstanding of a possibility that the problem can continue just because you are acting nicely in delivering the feedback. Try not to drag the meeting out or tip toe around the subject, but be aware of your employee’s feelings and make sure that they view you as an approachable source to come to for future issues.

Share positives

You want to be clear about the behavior or change you wish to see in your employee, but make sure you also mention the positive value they contribute to the company. An employee who feels worthless is not likely to change their behavior for the positive or stick around for long. Focus on the things they do well and make it clear that you want to see more things like that and less of whatever is wrong.

Don’t space out feedback for only times when there is a problem

Create a framework where you meet with employees at the beginning of a project or season to explain the goals and vision, then schedule check-ins along the way to make sure they are on track and still understand what is expected of them. Bring up positives and critiques at each of these meetings to create an open dialogue. Regular feedback will make negative feedback less uncomfortable because you will not give problems enough opportunity to fester.

Follow up

After you have communicated the uncomfortable feedback and established what actions need to be taken moving forward, make it clear that you will have a follow up meeting. When you follow up with this employee let them know that you notice the efforts they are making to respond to your feedback and how they can continue to improve. It is especially important to focus on the positives on follow up meetings, but also make sure you are being honest in whether or not your employee is meeting your expectations.

Have you ever had to deliver uncomfortable feedback to employee? What did you do to get through it? How did your employee react? Let us know in the comments below!

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