Have you ever had to give difficult feedback to a talented team member you want to motivate and inspire? Most people encounter that situation from time to time in their working lives. There are two possible risks: you soft-pedal the feedback, so the recipient doesn't really hear or understand it; or you crush the confidence of someone who has real potential to succeed. There is a third way, so here are some tips for turning bad news into a conversation that leaves the recipient motivated to improve, and your working relationship even stronger. There are many ways for this conversation to go wrong, but the more of the following you put into practice, the better the outcome is likely to be:
1 Make sure the recipient feels valued as a person. Feedback from associates tells us that they appreciate it when partners and senior lawyers take the time to get to know them as individuals, and to listen to and respect their opinion. If you have created a relationship of mutual respect and interest, you have a good foundation for helping people perform at their best. As part of the feedback conversation, make sure you mention something you appreciate about them – make it sincere, specific and succinct. It can be as simple as 'I really appreciate how hard you have been working' or 'I've noticed how willing you are to offer your help to others on the team'.
2 Let them know that you have some feedback you believe will help them improve their skills or performance. Feedback given with positive intent is always more effective than criticism that comes from a place of annoyance or lack of respect. Notice your own feelings and manage them well. Introduce the feedback as being intended to help them succeed.
3 Make your feedback succinct and crystal clear. Work out in advance how you're going to give the feedback and stick to it. Give the recipient time to digest what you've said. Make sure the feedback is about the action or behaviour that you want them to change, not about them as a person.