Every leader will encounter the need to deliver performance feedback to an employee at some point in her career. Some managers choose to ignore the behaviour in the hopes that the employee will correct the performance without the need for a conversation. This is rarely the case. It might seem easier to avoid the issue; after all, giving feedback can be challenging. However, if left unaddressed, chances are the behaviour will continue, and in many cases, even worsen. I once heard somebody tell me that giving feedback to an employee is like a gift. If a leader truly cares about the success of her employee, then she will do what is necessary to offer guidance on how to improve. All humans have blind spots when it comes to how others perceive us, so providing the employee with another perspective to help him grow and develop, will be beneficial for both parties.
To be an effective leader, there are some methods to make those crucial conversations easier and less daunting. Here are some quick tips:
1. Develop a Trusting Relationship
When managers take the time to get to know employees and show they care about them, this is the beginning of building a relationship of trust. This is critically important for the feedback to be received well. Once trust is established, an employee will be more receptive to your feedback, and will work harder not to disappoint you. Trust is the cornerstone for any leader/follower relationship to be successful.
2. Ask Questions
An inquiry-based approach is key for the feedback conversation to be conducted from a place of respect. Asking questions instead of making accusations will start the conversation from a less defensive place. Furthermore, when you use questions to learn more about the situation, you are collecting information you can use to support your perspective. It also opens up the possibility that you may have been missing some key information. It’s important to give the employee the benefit of the doubt and give time and space for the employee to communicate his own views on the situation.
3. Remain Calm
We all have triggers. It’s important to assess your own emotional state before you embark on a crucial conversation meeting. If you are feeling frustrated or angry, it might be best to wait until you’ve had time to calm down. When the situation is emotionally charged, there is a risk of the conversation escalating and losing focus. In any leadership situation, it’s important to ask yourself why you are experiencing these strong emotional reactions, and if the situation really deserves such a response.
4. Be Aware of Tone and Body Language
Leaders already have positional power over the employee, so it’s important to scale back on asserting your authority. That can be achieved by using a neutral tone, and choosing non-threatening language. Watch out for statements such as “you need to” or “you never”, and instead use “I” statements. Stick to facts, and present evidence-based feedback, when possible. Opinions can be expressed only when you acknowledge that you are only presenting your own perspective, and admit that you may be incorrect in your assessment. Your body language needs to reflect that you are relaxed and open to the conversation. Make eye contact and watch for facial expressions that might indicate you are annoyed or frustrated.
5. Be Authentic
The more you communicate authentically and with honesty, the better the conversation will play out. If an employee thinks you are not being truthful, progress is unlikely. This holds true for any interaction you have in the workplace. It’s okay to show weakness and admit when you’re mistaken. Take accountability so others will follow your lead.
6. Make a Commitment, Then Let Go
Near the end of the conversations, try to get a commitment from the employee on how they might be able to change the behaviour in question. This must be something that the employee suggests, not the manager. After the meeting, it’s important that the manager does not continue to bring up the issue repeatedly. Let bygones be bygones. Let the employee know that you are agreeing to move forward, and the issue will not be discussed again unless there is a repeat of the behavior.
7. Say Thank-You
At the end of the meeting, be sure to thank the employee for the honest conversation. Let them know that you value them as an employee, and look forward to continuing to work alongside them.
Melissa has been an organizational leader for over 15 years in various industries. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and recently completed a Master of Arts degree in Leadership. She currently works as an organizational leadership consultant at Fox & Owl Consulting Services.