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7 Words CEOs Should Avoid When Giving Employee Feedback

Your team is important to you. They’re your backbone. So the last thing you need is a team that’s upset with you for using words or phrases that make you appear passive aggressive or worse, weak. As the boss, discussing job performance with your employees is inevitable, but you can avoid offending them by throwing these 7 words (and phrases) out of your vocabulary.


“If you want to succeed”

There are many definitions of success, and your employee might define success differently. Your definition of success does not determine how or if your employee is successful. Not only can this phrase come off as passive-aggressive and offensive, it may also sound threatening if it’s used in a job performance review.



‘Fine’ can make you sound weak and mediocre, not to mention indecisive. No employee wants to hear that the project they’ve been working on all week is just “fine.” It also doesn’t provide the employee with much of a gauge as to how to improve, or if they even need to. Try being more specific instead.


Using “seems” seems to be weak and indecisive, much like using the word ‘fine.’ It’s weak if you’re using it to avoid being honest about employee work not being up to par, and it’s indecisive if you’re using it because you can’t make up your mind about how you feel about something. Try saying exactly what you mean instead.



“Be more like”

They say that comparison is the root of all evil. Don’t compare people, especially not your employees during a performance review. If you think an employee would do better if they behaved or worked a certain way, get to the root of the problem and provide concrete examples for improvement.


‘Always’ is a strong word, and you should avoid it when speaking to your employees. It’s probably not true that they are “always late” or “always moody” or “always forgetting to save files to the network.”  




Just like with the word ‘always,’ avoid speaking in absolutes whenever possible. You immediately lose credibility when you tell an employee that they’ve never done this or never done that. Soften your word choice and use something like ‘rarely’ or ‘often’ or ‘consistently’ instead.


It might seem impossible not to use the word ‘you’ or some variation of it when providing feedback. After all, you are speaking directly to someone. However, constantly saying ‘you’ or ‘your’ puts the employee on the defensive; it comes off as accusatory. It might sound awkward and unnatural to refrain from the word, but it makes difficult feedback a little easier to swallow. Consider using “I’m noticing a lack of communication and I wonder if it’s because the workload is too high” versus “You are not communicating and I think it’s because you can’t handle the workload.” See the difference?



If necessary, write these phrases down so you remember to avoid using them. Better yet, write a script or bullet points about what you’re going to say so that you aren’t making it up as you go along. Even practicing your feedback out loud can be helpful. Oftentimes, hearing the words out loud sounds differently than how they did in your head.

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