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In a recent article for Kellogg Insight, Professor Brooke Vuckovic offered some great tips on how to deliver negative feedback effectively. Among the bits of advice, Vuckovic recommended trying to anticipate the types of new information that might emerge and challenge one's beliefs about the drivers of poor performance: "To prepare for this possibility, she suggests asking yourself a few prompts: What’s your story of the problem—and what story might this other person tell about the same problem?" She advocates preparing for the possibility that you might not have a complete and accurate understanding of the situation. You might ask yourself: Under what circumstances might I change my mind about this employee's status? Finally, Vuckovic argues that you also have to consider whether you did not articulate goals and expectations clearly. What role did you perhaps play by not communicating clearly?
In the end, the employee may not be performing well, and you must deliver some feedback that might be difficult to hear. Still, Vuckovic argues that you want to make sure to solicit the employee's perspective, listen actively, and play back what you have heard to insure you have understood clearly. Finally, and most importantly, prepare an exit strategy for the conversation. If things aren't going well, have a plan for how to bring the conversation to a close, perhaps with an invitation for further discussion once cooler heads have prevailed.