Business

How to give staff negative feedback and stay positive

Portrait of a mechanic replacing a wheel

How to give staff negative feedback and stay positive

If you want to get the best out of your staff, then giving them feedback is an essential part of managing them. This includes praise and the one most people dread: negative feedback. It’s never nice to take someone aside and discuss with them what they are doing or getting wrong, and it can be difficult to do it in a way that doesn’t upset or demoralize them. However, with a bit of thought, preparation and consideration you can achieve the best possible outcome: improve the employee’s performance and, thereby, the performance of your business as a whole. Here’s what you need to know about how to give successful negative feedback.

Make negative feedback unusual

No one wants to work in an environment where they are constantly subject to criticism and complaint. In this scenario, morale drops and workers stop caring about their roles because they feel they will be in trouble no matter what they do. Many relatively insignificant issues can be dealt with in team meetings (without singling out the individual) or with a quick, polite word. A “negative feedback event”, where you address a legitimate issue with a particular worker, should be relatively rare. This way the gravity of the issue is underlined and, if positive feedback is routinely given, won’t contribute to a negative working environment.

Don’t stockpile negative feedback

You should give feedback of all kinds as soon as possible after the event. While you don’t want to be constantly giving negative feedback, you also shouldn’t stockpile problems and give them to a staff member all at once. This can feel overwhelming and undermines the worth of what you are telling them.

Choose the right time, place and method

As tempting as it might be, don’t email negative feedback. It’s very easy to misconstrue the meaning of an email and people might be tempted to share or forward the message, which brings others into the situation and sows discord. Email can easily escalate a situation that could have been very easily handled in person. Likewise, never deliver negative feedback in front of other staff members; instead, find a private place, such as your office, and keep it private.

Be specific

While it’s important to be tactful, it’s even more important to be clear about the behavior or incident and how it affects the business; this paves the way to resolving it. If, for example, an employee is consistently late, you could say “John, I’ve noticed you’ve been late several times this month. This is causing difficulty because Joe and Steve have to cover for you and they don’t know how to do your role, so our customers are also inconvenienced as they have to wait longer.” If your staff member knows exactly what they are doing wrong and the impact it has, then they can do something about it.

Find the root of the problem and listen

In some cases, an employee won’t know they are doing something wrong, won’t perceive it as a big deal or won’t have a legitimate reason for their behavior. Ask them for their input. Why did they approach the situation in a certain way? Is there a reason they are late so often? Are they lacking appropriate training? This is an important step to take in resolving the situation for the good of everyone. You don’t want to jump to conclusions or come across like a bully. Providing the person with an opportunity to explain and discuss the issue means they will feel like they have been heard out and gives you both better perspective and ways to move forward.

Define and agree on an action plan

Providing negative feedback without a plan to improve performance or behavior is a waste of time. You need to have an agreed set of actions moving forward. This may involve the employee or both of you implementing change. For example, John agrees to fill in the appropriate paperwork for each job as soon as he has completed it, or you arrange for further training in an area he is making mistakes in. You then need to set a time when you will meet again and review the employee’s progress, and hopefully by that time you will have some positive feedback for them!

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