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How to Provide Negative Feedback during Employee Appraisals

Many managers fear giving negative feedback to their employees during evaluation sessions. But the appraisal review doesn’t have to be the first time you’ve provided them with constructive criticism. By wandering around the work areas and spending a good deal of time with your employees, you can give them negative feedback when their performance merits it.

Nonetheless, three strategies can make this process even easier for you:

  • Sit down. Obviously, performance appraisals are sit-down activities, which is a plus because providing negative feedback to your employees is much easier when you’re both seated. Why? Because people are far less likely to get heated up when they’re sitting down.

    Also pay attention to where you’re seated. A desk that separates you from your employees can be a psychological as well as physical barrier. In order to send a message to your employees that you want to partner with them in the appraisal process, try either sitting next to them or pulling your chair around your desk and sitting face-to-face with no barriers between the two of you. In either setup, you’ll be able to give negative feedback more easily, and they’ll be able to receive it more easily as well.

  • Use I not you. When you’re providing negative feedback to your employees, one surefire way to generate a harsh reaction is to lace your comments with the word “you.” Frequent use of the word “you” sounds like a combination of accusation and scolding, and employees are likely to become increasingly defensive with each additional you.

    Try using the word “I” instead of “you” when possible. For example, instead of saying “You didn’t complete the project on time,” try saying “I’m wondering why the project came in late.” In this way, you’ve centered the issue on yourself and the project, which opens the door for a conversation instead of a confrontation.

  • Focus on behaviors. The essence of performance appraisal is focused on behavior — and that’s essential to keep in mind when providing negative feedback. The idea is for your employees to sense that you’re concerned or upset with some aspect of their behavior but not with them as individuals.

    For example, if you asked an employee to give a particular report to certain employees, but she gave it to all the employees, you could say, “You made a mistake by giving this report to everyone,” but your employee will probably perceive this as a direct attack, and she’s likely to react in kind. With some minor tweaking of the wording, you can rephrase and refocus the feedback so that it’s targeted on the behavior and perceived as less of an attack: “Giving this report to everyone was a mistake.”

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