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One of the best ways you can assist your employees with their professional development is giving them ongoing feedback about their job performance. Performance management should not just be a conversation you have once a year with an employee; it should occur gradually, through daily interactions, regular check-ins and continuous mentoring.

Giving effective constructive criticism can be difficult for many managers because it requires finding a delicate balance between sensitivity and directness. If you try too hard to give only positive feedback and not hurt anyone’s feelings, you miss valuable opportunities to help your employees learn and improve in their work. If you lean toward the opposite extreme and are too blunt and harsh in your assessments, you offend the people you are trying to help, and your advice will fall on deaf ears.

To find the right approach for giving feedback to your employees, you must first examine the intention and motivation behind your words.

A Constructive Criticism Checklist

What are you trying to achieve?

Before starting a performance management conversation with an employee, ask yourself what you hope to accomplish as a result. What essential information are you trying to communicate? What behaviors do you want to change? What is the ideal outcome from this interaction? Stay focused on actions. For example:

I want to talk to Frank about the correct way to file an expense report. He has been doing everything right except the way he codes certain charges, and I want to show him the list of all the updated codes. I’d like for him to practice using the system on his own so that he’ll know how to do it correctly the next time he submits a report.

What is the best way to communicate with this employee?

It is very helpful to frame your constructive criticism in a way that takes the employee’s personality type into account (learn more about this through the DISC personality test). Take a moment to empathize with her (it’s always hard to hear criticism, no matter how well-meaning), then ask yourself how she would like to be treated in this situation. For example, if you know this employee is meticulous about the quality of her work and is sensitive to feedback about her performance, you might think:

Maria is very hardworking and good at her job, but she has been taking on too many projects and the quality of her work has been suffering since she is so overextended. I want to be sure to emphasize how much we value her contributions and how she is an essential part of the team, but I need to tell her to cut back on the number of projects she works on at one time. I think she will be able to help determine what is a reasonable amount of work, and she can put together a plan to solve the problem.

Are there any personal issues or biases you should be aware of?

It is important to keep your own feelings in check when you are giving constructive criticism at work. No one is free from bias, so be honest with yourself before you turn a performance management conversation into a situation that is too personal. Do you have a history of conflict with this employee? Or are you friends with him outside of work? What do you need to keep in mind when giving him feedback to treat him fairly? For example:

Trevor and I tend to clash on certain issues, and he is probably the most difficult employee I manage. I need to talk to him about improving his sales numbers , but I should stay focused on that one concrete problem without getting sidetracked by our personality differences.

How do you stay focused when you give feedback to employees? Share your comments below.

Want to learn more? Check out our post “3 Tips for Giving Constructive Criticism.”

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