How to Give Feedback to a Difficult Employee

Business.com / Employees / Last Modified: October 23, 2017
Photo Credit: Portrait Images Asia by Nonwarit/Shutterstock

All employees need feedback to progress. For those employees who are underperforming or are causing difficulties in the workplace, it's important to deal with them in an appropriate way.

There's no avoiding it. At some point in their career, every manager has to deal with a difficult employee – and they can come in a variety of forms. There are those who can negatively impact other employees if they are unmotivated, lazy or have a bad attitude. Other employees struggle to follow instructions, or are simply underperforming. Whatever the issue is with a difficult employee, it needs to be addressed.

A top manager addresses the issue as soon as possible. This doesn't mean telling them how bad they are, or firing them straight away. It requires giving them feedback and hoping their performance will improve, giving them the opportunity to turn things around.

It’s important to document any conversations you have with the employees and give feedback in the best possible way. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at how managers can communicate with tricky employees to produce the best results.

Why is it important to deal with difficult employees?

There are many reasons why you need to deal with a difficult employee. First, the cost of keeping them on while they're doing their job badly can be very expensive. Those issues are not just limited to the individual, either; their mistakes might be picked up by another employee, or they could be scaring away customers and clients.

If an employee has a negative attitude, this may impact other staff members, making them feel demoralized. You don't want their negativity to affect the rest of the team and cause a larger problem simply because it wasn't dealt with sooner. Finally, some employees under the spotlight might be unaware of their weaknesses. External factors could be contributing to their underperformance

The first step of the process is to talk to the employee and find out why they are behaving that way. Arrange a meeting to give feedback, discuss issues and create a dialogue, helping you to understand how the employee is feeling and the reasons for their behavior.  

Have a courageous conversation

The thought of putting off a difficult conversation is tempting. But the sooner you address the issue, the better. You need to have a courageous conversation with the employee to discuss their difficulties. The key is to find the root of the problem and give feedback for them to improve.

A courageous conversation involves giving feedback, setting goals or clarifying expectations. You need to offer motivation to the employee and tell them how to develop. How they react to your input will dictate what actions to take next.

Use the E2C2 model when giving feedback

Feedback can be given in a variety of ways. Criticism can generate defensiveness, but if you stick to the facts, giving criticism is much more effective. The sandwich model of giving feedback can leave employees feeling confused, so try and find an alternative way to give feedback.

One of the best models for offering feedback to employees is through the E2C2 model. This method has four simple steps: evidence, effect, change and continue. This model uses facts (evidence) to demonstrate to an employee what their behavior is. Next, the manager discusses the effect this has on the company or other employees. Finally, the manager explains the change the employee needs to make and what they should continue with.

Sticking to the E2C2 model clearly explains what the employee is doing wrong and how to correct their behavior. It gets straight to the point and doesn't hide the critique between good feedback.

Identify if training is necessary

If an employee is underperforming, this could be an indication that they require further training. Poor performance can be improved with effective training. If you find that an employee is struggling with the tasks given to them, organizing any follow-up training should be a priority after your conversation.

If a training course means the employee can do their job better and feel more confident dealing with customers or clients, make it happen. Find out how they can receive the training and support needed for their position, and support the employee during the training process.

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