How to share negative feedback

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Q: I need to give one of my employees some negative feedback about their performance.  It is not all negative but some concerns have popped up, which I need to make him aware of.  I don’t want to wait but I want to address them in a timely and quick manner.  My company is a start-up and we don’t receive a lot of training.  I am a new supervisor so I am looking for some tips.  Can you share?

A: Kudos to you for addressing these concerns!  You have good instincts.  When I have a client who calls asking for this type of advice, I typically share the following:

  1. Address the concerns in a timely way – which you seem to be doing. If you “hold onto” the feedback, it tends to send the message that it is not important.  Additionally, some employees may not recollect the incident, the example or the situation.  I think many supervisors hope the situation will improve and they don’t address concerns, and then the concerns grow and the situation worsens.
  2. Share the concerns face-to-face, or at least in a phone/video call (if a face-to-face meeting is not possible). Find a private space, ideally an office, conference room or even a quiet corner of a lunch room during a non-busy time.  I would advise against using email or texting to address a concern.
  3. Establish a norm of sharing feedback, both positive and negative. Some supervisors schedule check-ins every three months.  Some supervisors meet with their employees every other week for 15 minutes.  The frequency will depend on the number of team members you supervise, as well as your workload.
  4. If possible, try to offer balanced feedback. “Maria, your Excel skills have improved quite a bit.  Your forecasting models are now quite impressive!  You are able to work on these independently and our team views you as the internal expert.  This is an accomplishment!  On the flip side, you and I have talked about continuing to develop your Excel skills.  I would like you to enroll in the online advanced Excel class, and I think we need to make that a priority. It seems like this training keeps getting postponed.  Can you complete that training by 12/31?”
  5. After you have shared the feedback, check in with the employee. “Jan, we talked last week about your ability to present data to the team.  Have you given that any more thought?”

You are smart to ask about how to best approach an employee.  Your approach can set the tone for future interactions.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.