Giving useful feedback in the workplace can be an extremely daunting task—even for those who have no qualms with confrontation. There is no amount of communication classes in the world that can prepare you for exactly how someone might react to what they perceive as criticism.
The purpose of constructive criticism—of course—is to work through problems and solutions in a safe, team environment. However, delivery of not so stellar news always requires tact.
When in doubt: positivity, positivity, positivity.
The Sandwich Method
This tactic is communication 101. If you have a piece of feedback which is not the most flattering, do not sugar coat it. You need to get the problem out in the open so that you and the person you are providing the feedback to can work together to come to a reasonable solution.
However, you can sandwich the not so great news with the best aspects of their performance.
If, for example, your employee struggles with time management—always late to meetings and missing project deadlines—but they have incredible people skills, you can highlight how their attitude brightens up the office and even helps improve other workers’ productivity before bringing up the issue of being late.
Then, once the issue is broached, allow the employee to talk through the issue. Let them know you are not interested in getting them into trouble but want to help them create a work environment where they can thrive.
Perhaps the two of you could block out a specific place in the office where they go to get things done distraction-free. Or maybe they need to do more collaborative projects that utilize their stellar people skills.
Then after the discussion of their issue, end with praise.
Remember Your Motive
Your attitude should be one of improvement for both your workplace and your employee. By going in with a solution mindset, you will naturally feel more at ease because you are not approaching the situation on the offensive.
People subconsciously read the room long before anything is spoken. Employees have a gut feeling that they are about to get reamed out before it happens.
Going in with the intention of keeping the situation calm and positive, will not only calm your own nerves, but create an atmosphere where the employee can relax, and the two of you can work together.
Active listening is a crucial component in establishing this environment. When you ask an employee a question about why they are late, listen to their answer—not to call them out on excuses, but to hear the genuine reasons behind their lateness. Chances are, they might only need a little help restructuring their routine to suit your scheduling needs better.
Ultimately, giving effective feedback comes down to a positive attitude on the part of the evaluator. Finding something that your employee does well and listening when they speak is always a great way to show them that you are on the same side. This approach will likely make them more willing to work with you to find a solution to the problems that are occurring.