Performance reviews are a key part of the management job, but they're not something all managers enjoy. Even a positive review is stressful for an employee, and negative reviews … well, not every employee appreciates constructive criticism. Sometimes employees get defensive, or even hostile, when they receive negative comments. How you respond to that reaction can make a big difference in your working relationship with that employee going forward.
First, make sure the employee understands the goal of the feedback. Unless the performance has been so bad the employee is at risk of being fired – and you should have a first conversation long before it reaches that point – the goal is to help them succeed. State this upfront, and establish that you will work with them and support them to make their success possible.
… and then get their opinion. It's possible there's something about the situation that you weren't aware of that might change your perception. Even if it doesn't, you need to understand how they see it. You may not be able to argue the employee out of their point of view, but you'll be able to tailor your approach more effectively.
Make sure you don't interrupt the employee during their response. Cutting them off can be seen as disrespectful. Pay attention to their body language and facial expressions, as well as their words.
You don't want to argue with the employee, but if they disagree or deny the accuracy of your evaluation, be prepared with examples that support your opinion. Also, be ready to present suggestions to help the employee address those problems.
If the employee continues to deny the problems, it may be better to continue the discussion another time. Suggest the employee take time to think over your feedback and schedule a continuation of the discussion for a day or so later.
When you have that second discussion, make sure the employee understands the consequences of not taking action to correct the issue. If possible, speak about the positive benefits of achieving the change, as well as the potential negative consequences if performance doesn't improve.
Lastly, make sure the employee knows it's not their responsibility alone to fix the problem. Some problems can only be corrected with help from outside resources like an Employee Assistance Program or training in specific skills. Offer your employee these options, as well as your support, in order to help them improve and succeed at work.