Inevitably, no matter how stellar an employee's performance, you need to deliver less-than-favorable feedback at one time or another. When you offer criticism, remember to keep it strictly professional. Most people know when they've made a mistake, and you don't want to lower their confidence even more. Besides, a personal attack ("You are so inept!") is rude, unprofessional and accomplishes nothing.
Say, for example, that Mary is monopolizing your team meetings and criticizing the suggestions of others (when she even lets them speak!). You don't want to say: "Mary, you dominate the meetings and are rude and overbearing. You've got to let others speak." Instead, you can make your point without being offensive and offer suggestions for improvement at the same time.
Start with something positive and make the feedback more performance-based. For example: "Mary, you always have a lot of great ideas at our meetings, and I can tell you've really researched the topic. But I've noticed that some of our other team members aren't speaking up as much, and I'd like to give them an opportunity to do so."
Body language can cue you in on how the person is receiving your feedback. A drooping face, crossed arms and slumped posture can be bad signs. Here are some other things to keep in mind when you deliver criticism:
- Know what you want to say. You may even want to write down key points so that you don't forget anything or get sidetracked.
- Focus on facts, not feelings. Don't just say, "Tom, you're always late, and I'm tired of it." Say, "Tom, I'm concerned because of your tardiness lately. On the mornings of August 8, 11 and 17, you were an hour late."
- Be specific. Don't say, "I need you to shape up." Instead, say, "Starting tomorrow, I must have your weekly status report on time."
- Be timely. You want to be calm when you deliver feedback, but you don't want to wait for so long that the person has forgotten the incident and you're blindsiding him. Discuss a situation as soon as your emotions cool.
- Be direct, but tactful. Make sure that you use the words that you actually mean, instead of searching for a softer word that doesn't really make your point. For example, don't say, "Your lunch break is a little long" when you mean "I've noticed you're gone for three hours every afternoon." You need to make your point clear. Sugarcoating what you're trying to say may only make matters worse. But at the same time, you can use nice words – "I want to talk to you about an error on the Stanley project" versus "You totally blew the project" – to make your point.
- Give feedback in private. You don't need to embarrass someone with an audience. Take the person aside and speak with him or her one-on-one.
- Consider any training opportunities. Maybe Samantha missed her deadline, not because she procrastinated, but because she lacked the training to do the project efficiently. Don't forget to consider the person's skills. If you find them lacking, provide mentoring or training.
- Listen to what they have to say. After you've had your say, listen to the other side of the story. You may not be aware of some circumstances. Keep an open mind, listen and be sure to communicate regularly.