By: Kevin Eikenberry <>

March 3, 2017

As a supervisor, it is absolutely necessary that you provide your employees with performance feedback. And the process is often challenging and uncomfortable. After all, it is not easy for everyone to criticize others. That said, you can’t avoid it.

Just remember that the words you use are only part of your message. Your full message is a combination of the words you choose and the emotion you get across.

When you deliver performance feedback, the emotional part becomes particularly challenging. People receiving feedback are often already feeling vulnerable and emotional. They can be quick to believe that you are criticizing or threatening them in some way, and so they immediately put up their defenses.

That defensiveness, in and of itself, creates a potential minefield for supervisors. However, by understanding the emotional filter of the person receiving the feedback, you improve your odds of delivering the right message in the right way so that you minimize defensive reactions from employees. Additionally, while you do not want to be emotional when you provide feedback, you do want to frame your feedback based on employees’ emotional filters. To figure out what those filters are, answer two questions about each employee:

Are they faster-paced or slower-paced? In other words, are they quick to speak or are they more contemplative?

Are they more focused on data, information, results and activities? Or are they more focused on interacting with and supporting people? In other words, do they focus on tasks or do they focus on relationships?

Then follow this advice. (Remember: Your feedback should always focus on observable issues, for example, behaviors, words, actions, results and so on.)

*             Employees who are faster-paced and focused on tasks. Speak directly to how their behaviors, words and actions impede how quickly they will see results. Avoid saying anything that might indicate you don’t respect them.

*             Employees who are faster-annual-reviewpaced and focused on relationships. Show them how their behaviors, words and actions damage the way that other people perceive them, and explain how new behaviors will lead people to recognize them more often. Avoid saying anything that communicates that you don’t like them.

*             Employees who are slower-paced and focused on relationships. Tie their actions to how they can help others and how their contributions build the team. Rather than focus entirely on what you want done, make time to discuss how you want it done (with their input). Avoid pushing too quickly for results. Give them time to process what you have said before asking for a response.

*             Employees who are slower-paced and focused on tasks. Speak to the value and quality of their work. Be prepared to back-up anything you say with data, including quality reports, run reports, research data and so on. Keep your comments factual and observable.

Take action: Use the tips above as a starting point to understand your team. Schedule a feedback meeting with someone on your team within the next 48 hours to practice applying the suggestions. As you speak with people, observe their responses to your approach, and then make adjustments as necessary.