5 Positive Ways to Constructively Critique Employees

The best way to tell somebody how to do better is to begin by telling them what they are doing well.

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By Matt Straz

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There inevitably comes a time when a manager has to give negative feedback. It's inevitable. No employee is perfect. Everyone can use a little improvement. The tricky part is providing feedback in a way that doesn't send the employee spiraling into a pit of despair and self-loathing. That's one way to get on the bad boss list.

Related: How to Deliver Uncomfortable Employee Feedback

When it's time for the annual review, or even a much-needed discussion with an underperforming employee, don't hide from the impending uncomfortable situation. Negative feedback can be dished out in a way that doesn't damage egos, or send employees packing. In fact, when given in a positive way, negative feedback can be very motivational and inspiring.

An article from Psychology Today explains how to give good constructive feedback using the sandwich method. Start with a compliment, gently add what needs improvement, then top it off with another compliment.While this method can be applied to giving feedback almost every time, here are some additional tips for giving negative feedback in a positive way:

1. Discuss the objective issue, not the person. Don't make statements that personally call out the employee like, "you should," "you didn't," or "your skills." Instead, discuss the issue by saying, "customers can't get what they need," or "this isn't clear."

2. Talk about what's going well. It's easy to get wrapped up in everything wrong with a situation. However, employees can't replace the void of knowing what not to do without knowing what to do. Compliment the employee on her strengths. Encourage the employee to do more of what she already knows how to do well. Then, when you give the negative feedback, the employee won't feel like everything she does is wrong.

3. Show the numbers. A big-headed employee might have a tough time believing he isn't getting the job done. Or, perhaps the employee needs a visual to understand the concern. A visual performance report can help demonstrate issues with data to help everyone understand the big picture goals.

Related: Stop Delaying: 3 Surefire Ways to Do Employee Reviews Properly

4. Get on the employee's level. One of the worst things that can lead a review conversation awry is the employee feeling at a lower level of intelligence or skill. Don't talk down to the employee, as if he is less intelligent because his performance is suffering. Try to find the source of the problem. Relate to the employee by sharing a personal story about a similar problem, and explain how it was resolved.

5. Reaffirm faith in the employee. Express the importance of the employee's valuable skills, and assure him he will improve. Remind him he was hired for a reason. Feedback will only make him stronger, as long as he channels it into accomplishing his goals.

While these are immediate methods for giving negative feedback, planning ahead will help. A 2013 World at Work study found 64 percent of employers believe recognition has an extremely positive effect on employee engagement and retention.

Throughout the year, acknowledge anniversaries or any significant personal achievements employees make from the start. A company can do this regularly, giving out awards to keep morale on a high level in general. Then, employees will be less averse to negative feedback because it has been balanced by regular positive feedback.

Overall, when giving negative feedback, have a positive attitude and demeanor. Don't let emotions take over. Supporting the team by giving feedback is necessary, and directly affects the success of the company. Plus, employees have an opportunity to learn their strengths and areas of opportunity. So pull the reports, relax, go forth and encourage the team!

Related: Stop Delaying: 3 Surefire Ways to Do Employee Reviews Properly
Matt Straz

Founder and CEO of Namely

Matt Straz is the founder and CEO of Namely, the HR and payroll platform for the world's most exciting companies.

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