Giving feedback to a subordinate on how to improve their performance can often leave you feeling uncomfortable-like  you are walking on eggshells. That is because most of the time we talk at rather than with the person.

In traditional communication, we usually start with one of two approaches. The soft approach is where we start sharing with the person all the things they do really well, then we say “but” and start listing all the things that need to be improved. At this point, all they hear is the word “but”. This immediately starts their brain thinking about how to defend against what you are saying.

The second approach is the hard approach. This is where you start right in with what they need to improve on without softening it by what they do really well. This could lead the other person to start thinking about all of your flaws, and what gives you the right to point out their flaws? Once their brain has moved in this direction, what it will try to do then is throw the monkey from their back onto yours. By the end of the meeting, you will find that you now have Jimmy on your calendar to meet with you once a week so you can help him prioritize his work. Not the result you were hoping for.

So how do you give feedback on how to improve their performance? Start with what you know about them and how they want to be perceived. There are not many people I know that wake up in the morning and say, “I’m so excited to go to work and just screw up everything.” Most people want to do well, but when they become so frustrated that they can’t, they begin to play havoc.

So use the Outcome Focus® Approach to raise their accountability, respect, and trust. Focus on the facts and not opinions. Focus on why the change is a positive one for them, and help them reach their goals.

Don’t let the other person squirm out of things, give you multiple excuses, or shift the blame to someone else. If Cherie tries to squirm and say it wasn’t her fault she is having problems with the team, you should directly respond with, “Cherie, we’re here today not to talk about the team but about your role as a leader with the team. So let’s stick with that.”

At the end of the meeting, recap what you agree needs to be done and how you will monitor improvement. If you give them a back door of accountability, they won’t know if you’re going to follow up on what they’re doing.

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