How to Give Criticism: A Guide for Tough Performance Conversations

by Melany Gallant | Posted | Communication

How to Give Criticism: A Guide for Tough Performance Conversations

Criticism is an unenviable, yet inevitable part of life. And while there is a widely accepted dislike of receiving criticism, there’s also a large amount of dread felt in delivering it. That dread is a major reason why constructive performance feedback is either not delivered effectively or worse — not delivered at all.

What’s important to remember is that feedback – positive or negative – is about improving performance. Which means it needs to be timely, honest and future-oriented. 

To make it not feel like criticism, your goal is to ensure that when the conversation is over, the key issue has been discussed, a plan is in place to address it, and both sides leave with positive takeaways. If you’re a manager dreading your next tough performance conversation with an employee, here are some tips that can help you prepare.

1. Make sure feedback is constructive

If feedback is malicious or inappropriate, it’s not going to help improve performance. So be thoughtful in your delivery. In order to be constructive, feedback should be timely, clear and indicate the behavior you’d like to see from the employee going forward. If you can’t offer that kind of coaching, it simply comes across as criticism.

2. Make sure feedback is properly directed

It’s easy to get frustrated when a task isn’t getting done or is being completed poorly. (If your emotions are running high – wait until you’re in a calm state before delivering your feedback!) Remember though, your feedback needs to be based on facts not opinion.

If an employee is not performing to standards, don’t assume you have all the information. Ask probing questions to identify what may be behind poor performance.

Then ask yourself: What role did I play things going wrong? What could I have done differently? What tools or guidance could I give my team to effectively tackle this problem?

3. Make sure feedback is articulate, persuasive and actionable

Develop a plan together to ensure the employee truly understands the performance behavior that needs to change and how to do that successfully. Get the employee’s input into this action plan to increase accountability and engagement in the process.

4. Try using a feedback model to guide your conversation

Take the stress out of delivering feedback by preparing in advance. However, I suggest avoiding the sandwich feedback model. While it’s tempting to cushion any tough feedback you need to deliver by “sandwiching” it between two pieces of positive feedback…the approach dilutes your objective.

There are tons of feedback models out there that can help you…including a few here:

Going into a conversation prepared with a clear delivery of the issue and a willingness to develop a plan of action with your employee is the best way to ensure a positive outcome. Good feedback drives employee recognition, employee engagement and decreases turnover. Win-win all around!

Your turn: What advice do you have for helping managers prepare for a tough performance conversation?

Employee Feedback and Coaching Templates

Give helpful and effective feedback with these templates


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Employee Feedback and Coaching Templates

Give helpful and effective feedback with these templates


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