How to deliver feedback on an employee’s appearance

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Delivering feedback on appearance can be an exceptionally awkward task for even the most seasoned supervisor or HR professional.

Such feedback can come across as petty and vindictive, but executive coach Rebecca Zucker believes that an employee’s appearance is a critical and often ignored aspect in their professional success.

“Personal appearance is one important facet of executive presence, the lack of which can hold someone back, regardless of the individual’s competence level or mastery of his or her job function,” she wrote in Forbes.

Zucker – who also co-founded leadership development firm Next Step Partners – said there are five things you need to watch out for when delivering sensitive feedback:

  1. The intent should be positive – Sometimes individuals are just unable to see how their appearance could be an issue and Zucker said you can use that blind spot to gain their confidence by framing the conversation in the context that you would like to help them succeed.
  2. Use descriptions not evaluations – Be specific about what it is that you think they need to improve on such as baggy clothes or wearing too much perfume instead of calling them out for looking unprofessional.
  3. Ask them open-ended questions – Make it a two-way conversation by engaging them early on and share their thoughts on the issue.
  4. ‘Describe the impact’ – Explain to the employee how their appearance could be derailing their progress because it diminishes their presence, for example, said Zucker.
  5. ‘Discuss ideas for improvement’ – Suggest ways that you think they could improve on their appearance such as providing helpful resources or online research.

Have you ever had to provide an employee with feedback on their appearance? Post your comments here.

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