Navigating the Emotional Minefield When Giving Performance Feedback

Warning Sign

Most supervisors deliver performance feedback to members of their team. A face-to-face meeting is the most common way to deliver feedback.

During this meeting, the words you use are only part of your message. Your full message is a combination of the words you choose and the emotion you transmit.

When you deliver performance feedback, the emotional part becomes particularly challenging. People receiving feedback are often at an elevated emotional state, and you run the risk of sounding like you are criticizing or threatening them in some way. This combination creates a potential minefield that even supervisors who are coaching people from good performance to excellent performance can find difficult to navigate. The situation becomes even more complicated when you need to deliver truly negative feedback.

By understanding the emotional filter of the person receiving feedback, you can adjust your delivery to improve your odds of delivering the message you intend to deliver. While the details and specifics will  change based on your past relationship with your team members, the exact nature of your message, and the environment you work in, there are some predictable response patterns you can use as a guide to help you craft your message so that you minimize the risk of an emotional confrontation.

Regardless of the other person’s particular emotional filter, all work performance feedback should be directed at objective, observable issues – behaviors, words, actions, results, etc. While you do not want your feedback to be emotional in nature, you do want to frame it based on their emotional filters.

To do this, answer two questions about the other person:

  1. Are they faster paced or slower paced? In other words, are they quick to speak or more are they more contemplative. And then…
  2. Are they more focused on data, information, results, and doing things? Or, are they more focused on interacting with and supporting people? In other words, do they focus on tasks or do they focus on relationships.

If they are faster-paced and focused on tasks, speak directly to how their behaviors, words, and actions impact how quickly they will see results. Avoid saying anything that might indicate you don’t respect them.

It they are faster-paced and focused on relationships, show them how their behaviors, words, and actions affect the way that other people might perceive them and how the new behaviors will create more recognition for them. Avoid saying anything that communicates that you don’t like them.

If they are slower paced and focused on relationships, tie their actions to how they can help others and how their contribution builds the team. Rather than focus entirely on what you want done, make time to discuss how you want it done (with their input). Avoid pushing too quickly for results. Give them time to process what you have said before asking for a response.

If they are slower paced and focused on tasks, speak to the value and quality of their work. Be prepared to back-up anything you say with data – quality reports, run reports, research data, etc. Keep your comments factual and observable.

As you speak with people, observe their response to your approach and then adjust using these suggestions as a guide to navigate the emotional minefield of performance feedback.

Your Now Step: Think about the people you lead. How do they perceive the world? What are their emotional filters? Use the tips above as a starting point to understand your team. Schedule a feedback meeting with someone on your team within the next 48 hours to practice applying these suggestions.


    • says

      Hi Michael,

      No disrespect intended. I really only meant to use the term in the second sense listed here.

      I apologize for sounding cavalier. I only meant that supervisors are proceeding into “something resembling a minefield especially in having many dangers or requiring extreme caution.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *