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Employee feedback, especially the negative kind, can be difficult to give and to take, which is why so many people dread the performance review process.
It doesn’t help that when employers say one thing, employees hear another thing entirely. Employers need to think about what they’re trying to communicate and how it might sound to employees to avoid any confusion or resentment.
Related: 3 Phrases That Kill Intrapreneurship
To make the process of providing and receiving employee feedback more productive and less dreadful, here are five things no employee wants to hear, and what employers should say instead:
1. “You’re doing a great job, but …”
What the employee hears: “but …”
It’s never a good idea to begin a piece of constructive criticism with a compliment for the simple fact that the praise will go in one ear and out the other. Instead, focus separately on what the employee does successfully and what needs a little extra TLC.
Recognizing employees for their achievements will soften the blow of any constructive feedback they might receive -- regardless of when it’s said. But focusing on their achievements apart from that criticism will ensure that employees don’t miss out on feedback that encourages them to continue doing what they do well.
2. “I need you to be more like [blank].”
What the employee hears: That person "is a better employee than you."
Always focus on the employee receiving the feedback. Throwing other employees into the mix -- whether it’s to demonstrate their superiority or inferiority -- can do more harm than good. Employees will begin to see their peers as competition, which can lead to increased tension and a lack of teamwork in the workplace.
Instead of comparing employees, evaluate performance in comparison with the company’s mission, vision and values.
3. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to start training you soon.”
What the employee hears: “We’re going to start training next week.”
Words such as “hopefully” and “soon” fall on deaf ears. To avoid any misconceptions, it’s best to hold off on sharing development plans until those plans are closer to coming to fruition. Sharing company expectations and then failing to deliver can have a negative effect on management, the company and the employer brand as a whole.
As an alternative, consider discussing the employee’s expectations for the future and how the company can help fulfill those expectations.
4. “How do you think you’ve been performing?
What the employee hears: “I already know how you’re performing, but want to see if you’re aware.”
Not only does this question come off as a trick question, but it also fails to elicit truly honest answers. Employees might think they’re doing amazing jobs, but they may not be willing to blow their own horns. On the other hand, they might be aware that their performance has taken a hit, but probably won’t want to point that out. Don’t ask, tell employees how they’re performing and focus on moving forward.
5. “I’m cutting you some slack since …”
What the employee hears: “If you were anyone else, you’d be fired.”
Whether it’s during a formal performance review or a casual check-in, employee feedback should be constructive. This isn’t the time to discipline employees, but rather a time to identify areas for improvement and come up with a solid plan to address and improve on any issues.
Avoid saying anything that could be subject to negative interpretation by employees. Instead, opt to provide criticism in a constructive way, and offer ways to help employees improve.
What are some other phrases managers should avoid saying when providing feedback? What should they say instead? Let us know in the comments section below.