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The Best Way To Give A Negative Performance Review

By Curt Steinhorst –  Speaker on Strategic Communications & Digital Distractions

Communication Keynote Speaker Curt Steinhorst at The Sweeney Agency Speakers Bureau

Firing, rehiring and training is expensive. When an employee is underperforming, the best course of action is an improvement plan. While it’s part of the job, every leader dreads communicating negative feedback that will hopefully lead to improved performance. Good news: There is a better way to deliver bad news.

Dear Curt: As Department Head, I have to give a long-time employee a bad performance review, and I’m dreading it. What is the best method of communication? ~Jamey in Toledo

Dear Jamey: It’s a myth that bad news should always be shared in person. We’ve historically shared hard news face-to-face because body language, tone of voice, and non-verbal communication express empathy and humanize the delivery in a way that a written message can’t. Facial expressions are universal social signals critical in interpreting and navigating conflict. The challenge is that when we receive hard information, our amygdala gets hijacked. Adrenaline starts flowing, our mouth gets dry, hearts race, and everything prepares us to more effectively fight the danger or flee from it.

We now have technology that allows us to include non-verbal communication — and the empathy that only it can provide — in an asynchronous format that allows the recipient time for processing and recalibration before responding.

So, here’s a better approach to giving negative feedback: Pre-record the poor review on Loom. Loom is an incredible video messaging tool which lets you easily record messages and share them instantly.

Why Pre-Recorded Video Reviews Works

A video allows you to convey empathy — showing your facial expressions and communicating a non-threatening tone of voice, with the added benefits of letting you be precise in your words, as well as not obligating the employee to an immediate response. This lets the employee pass the amygdala hijack moment, much to everyone’s benefit.

What gift does this give them? Time. Time to process the negative information, get past their fight-or-flight response, and come back with great questions and action-oriented solutions.

No one likes feeling ambushed or put on the defensive. The shock of a live rebuke can leave employees red-faced and stammering, and ultimately resentful that they couldn’t come up with a level-headed response in the moment. As a manager, you are showing you care by helping them save face. They get to avoid losing respect for themselves in front of you.

Make it clear in the recording that you will still be meeting in-person later, so they do not mistake the video for being the sole vehicle of communication. While you want to stay objective and professional, you do not wish to appear impersonal or uncaring. Admit that this may seem like a strange method, but that you are giving them this information in advance to process on their own time before they respond.

Ask them to prepare for the live meeting by coming with:

  1. Their perspective and questions,
  2. Specific solutions and measurable goals, and
  3. A plan for follow-up.

The point of a performance review is not embarrassment or to gain dutiful compliance, it is improvement. The employee and company must move forward in a symbiotic relationship, both benefiting the other. If the employee’s contribution to the company is not matching expectations, the cheapest and most efficient course of action is helping them improve so their value matches their compensation. This is most effective when it is self-motivated instead of shame-based. And this unconventional method of asynchronous communication may give them the incentive to improve on their own.

Ultimately, what employees most long for is role-clarity and to know what is expected of them. But the lone annual performance review can be anxiety-producing, and catch people off-guard. If we think differently about the cadence of feedback that we provide, and the intent, performance reviews can be a reliable and predictable way to mutually evaluate our standing.

Besides possibly changing the medium, provide more frequent reviews for your employees, and decouple them from how big their bonus will be. Use reviews to regularly, objectively communicate expectations, and create shared alignment. This will humanize the process, gain synergy, create a more efficient workforce, and build more positive workplace culture.

About Curt Steinhorst –  Speaker on Strategic Communications & Digital Distractions

Curt Steinhorst is the bestselling author of Can I Have Your Attention?, a regular Forbes contributor on leadership strategy, a global speaker, and the founder and CEO of Focuswise.

He is on a mission to rescue us from our distracted selves. After years studying the impact of tech on human behavior, Curt founded Focuswise to help teams solve the problem of chronic distraction by applying the science of how the brain works to the reality of how we function in today’s world.

To learn more about Curt Steinhorst contact [email protected]

Derek Sweeney is the Director of Speaker Ideas at The Sweeney Agency  www.thesweeneyagency.com. For 15 years Derek has been helping clients find the right Speakers for their events. Derek can be reached at 1-866-727-7555 or [email protected]