Most employers would never consciously use criticism in a destructive way. However, employees can be sensitive to criticism, especially in performance reviews. Performance reviews should contain meaningful feedback, but communication both during and after the reviews should uplift an employee instead of making him or her feel bad.

Learning How to Give Constructive Feedback

Sometimes people don’t understand how their words come across. It happens in personal and professional relationships, and everyone should take time to work on verbal communication and body language in a professional environment. A manager can act as an impetus for his or her team, giving the feedback and encouragement individuals need to perform better each day, or a manager can act as an obstacle to achievement.

Criticism can be negative or positive. It all starts with the attitude going into the communication. Whether employee evaluations are just around the corner or your management team is trying a new approach to everyday communication, here are some ideas for offering meaningful feedback to drive productivity and performance:

  • Make feedback sessions a positive experience: Instead of calling an employee into your office in a way reminiscent of a parent getting ready to scold a child, set up a meeting in a nonthreatening environment. Go to lunch, on a walk outside, or somewhere that is more welcoming for a difficult conversation.
  • Practice using language that is honest, but supportive: When you need to correct employee behavior or offer guidance, carefully assess the situation. Use honest and direct language without coming across as abrasive, upset, or overly critical. For instance, instead of merely listing off what an employee does wrong, frame it as a recommendation.

Say “Perhaps you would have more success if you did it this way…” Ask questions about specific behaviors and try to understand what motivates individual employees. These types of communications start a dialogue and can help lower the tension while reaching a successful result. In other words, focus on the behaviors and not on the individual.

  • Never address performance issues publicly: Many employees who aren’t performing as well as they’d like need additional training or support. In other words, their issues aren’t related merely to attitude. Privately address performance issues instead of bringing them up in a group setting. If the issue is attitude-related, try to understand the cause of the behavior before addressing it. While you can simply tell an employee to stop or suffer the consequences, this approach rarely elicits the kind of response a company is looking for.
  • Don’t disregard strengths: Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and focusing only on weakness can make an individual feel self-conscious and lose confidence in his or her abilities. Use informal feedback and performance reviews to provide positive feedback for employees as well as constructive criticism. Remind individuals everyone has areas that need improvement, including management, and that these conversations provide insight into how to reach improvement goals.

Managers should get comfortable with performance-related communications, because great leadership invites strong performance. Invest in management training for these conversations, and start looking at ways to improve your current evaluation process. Check out the eBook Effective Performance Reviews to learn more.