Giving negative feedback to your staff and associates is a difficult, yet vital, law practice management skill.
Good law firm work environments encourage learning and growth, and giving and accepting feedback must be a part of that environment to improve work performance. Feedback that reinforces good behavior is the ideal way to foster growth. But there are times when it‘s important to discuss an issue that’s brewing in order to stop it before it gets beyond repair.
It’s necessary to give feedback effectively in order for your employees to have the benefit of knowing where they stand, so they can take steps to improve. If don’t give feedback with poor performers, they won’t know what to change, even if they sense your disapproval.
I’ve helped many of my coaching clients get past their limiting beliefs around giving negative feedback. They had such concerns as:
“If I tell him about his mistakes”:
- He’ll think I’m too difficult to work for;
- I’ll hurt his feelings; or
- He might quit.
Such limiting thinking stops you from giving necessary negative feedback. It’s ironic, as your motive for giving feedback is well-intentioned; you want to help your staff or associates improve their performance so they can become more successful.
How to give Negative Feedback Effectively
Consider using the sandwich approach to give negative feedback. Start with saying something positive about the employee’s skills or talents before describing the negative behavior that you want changed. Plan to finish the conversation positively. Be sincere in making the positive statements; if you lie you lose credibility. In between the positive statements, give your employee feedback on the behaviors that need to change. Base your feedback on behavior specific facts, not subjective opinions.
Choose the right environment
Negative feedback should not be given when you’re angry or upset. Wait until you can be calm and clear. Your conversation should be private and not rushed or interrupted.
When giving negative feedback it’s important that you describe an actual incident resulting from the poor behavior and not judge the employee as a result of performance failure. For example, say “This letter you wrote contained these five specific mistakes….”, rather than “You’re careless because you make so many mistakes.”
Be clear what improved behavior you want from the employee. For example, “When you write a letter, I want it to be 100% accurate. Accuracy is more important than speed.” Let the employee know what’s important about the improved performance. Have the employee confirm his or her understanding of your expectations.
It’s useful to be empathic when giving feedback. Try to appreciate how the employee might feel when hearing they’ve done something wrong. Be polite. Be appreciative. Be respectful. Stick to observations, not opinions concerning what occurred.
Additionally, be aware of your comment’s impact on the employee. Pay attention to whether he or she goes into a distressed state. If this happens, the employee is not likely able to hear what you’re saying. When you are calm and objective, you’re more likely to help the employee avoid a “shut down” state. If it does happen, give the employee a breather to calm down.
Give your employee a chance to talk
Give employees a chance to talk about their thoughts regarding their performance. Listen to them so they feel heard. Talk calmly through any differences. An employee may have valid reasons for their current behavior. The purpose of feedback is to create awareness that leads to improvement or correction of your employee’s performance. Giving them a chance to talk helps them increase their awareness.
Let the employee come up with their own solutions as to how to improve their performance. By suggesting the solution, the employee is more likely to follow through. Make the employee accountable by arranging to talk again at a future date. Be specific about the date. End the discussion by positively acknowledging your employee.