Giving constructive feedback to address behavior issues or the disruptive attitude of a team member often strikes fear in even the most seasoned leader. However, avoiding this difficult conversation is even worse. You can’t ignore the problem if something is obviously wrong so here are a few tips to help provide constructive feedback.
Avoid Mixed Messages
Performance feedback can be given two ways; through constructive feedback OR through a combination of praise and criticism. Don’t fall into the trap of giving praise with criticism, which is commonly referred to as a mixed message.
Mixed messages are essentially criticism sandwiched among accolades and praise and are sometimes referred to as “yes, but” messages. For example: “John, you have worked hard on this project, but. . .” What follows is something the person is not doing well, and is the real point of the message. The word “but,” along with its cousins “however” and “although,” when used in the middle of a thought, creates contradictions or mixed messages. In essence, putting “but” in the middle of a sentence tells the other person, “Don’t believe a thing I said before.”
Tie Your Feedback to a Specific Behavior
Constructive criticism is most effective when begun from a different position. Start by identifying the behavior or actions that demonstrate the problem, issue or situation. Avoid feedback that unintentionally criticizes the employee rather than their actions. For example, focus on the action of showing up late, an unacceptable number of errors or being non-responsive in communication rather than poor attitude, being careless or unapproachable.
Talking about a bad attitude is unlikely to be helpful because the person won’t know what they need to change. Telling someone they are incompetent or lazy is a personal attack on their character and will probably lead to an emotional response.
Your criticism should be factual, impersonal and timely. You might say, “This week I’ve noticed you’ve been late on three different occasions and now you want to leave early today for a dental appointment.”
State the Value of Changing and Impact
The value of changing their behavior must also be clear and reference the impact the behavior is having on the organization. For example, “When you take unscheduled time off the rest of the team has to take on the additional workload that we have not planned for and causes other members on your team to fall behind on their assignments.”
Out with the Old, In with the New
The most important step is coming up with alternative behavior that may be used to replace the unacceptable behavior. Asking, “So what can we do about it?” provides an opportunity for the person to respond and the two of you to work on potential solutions together. With providing an alternative action people generally fall back into the old habits or behaviors. It also provides a positive alternative that can be measured and tracked.
By avoiding mixed messages and being direct, the person knows exactly which specific behaviors or actions need to be changed. Communicating the impact the behavior is having on the organization is a way to demonstrate another perspective that the person may not be aware of. The alternative behavior allows you to collaborate with the employee and approach the situation in a way that does not leave the desired change open to interpretation.