It’s not hard for good managers to find reasons to praise their employees. After all, the company is built on their hard work, and they come in every day and throw their hearts into projects that make the manager look good in front of their bosses and shareholders. Most managers appreciate every hour their employees put in and every investment they make in company success.

But negative feedback is another thing altogether. For most of us, criticizing our employees takes years off of our lives, and we dread the moment when our face-to-face evaluation meetings turn in this direction.

If you feel this way at evaluation time, recognize that you’re not alone. All managers struggle with this task. (If they enjoy it, they’re terrible managers.) And second, recognize that negative feedback serves a healthy, vital purpose, since it keeps employees growing and it keeps them challenged. This type of feedback might be labeled as ‘negative’ but in essence it is there to produce long-term positive growth and improvement. Bear these tips in mind as you approach your employees’ areas in need of improvement.

Think Before You Speak (and Write): Tips for Delivering Negative Feedback:

1. Lead with the good news. This sets the proper tone for the meeting, and it also reinforces a relationship of mutual respect and trust. It reminds the employee that you have her best interests in mind. This way she’ll be more receptive when it’s time for the negative feedback.

2. No amount of editing is too much. The more you agonize over every sentence and phrase, the better. This is not wasted time. Especially if you want to keep an employee on board and maintain their good will.

3. Quantify your criticism. If the employee has been making too many mistakes, be ready to present a written record of those mistakes in case of dispute, and be able to compare numbers to that of an average employee. If an employee has been coming in late, have a record of the dates. If an employee has been missing their performance goals, have a report ready that shows goal completion rates. If an employee is being negatively perceived by their coworkers or supervisors, be ready to present a record of archived feedback or survey results to back up your claim so that the employee recognizes the issue and knows it is linked to behavior and not just your opinions. Review software like emPerform can help you gather and archive performance data and metrics throughout the review period and easily report on the results.

4. Expect a human response. Don’t be shocked if an employee doesn’t like what you have to say. It may be their job to accept your comments with grace, but it’s your job to deliver them with grace, and if you fail and the meeting turns sour, take responsibility. Be prepared to support your statements, explain your decisions, and implement damage control if you need to. Your reputation and your company’s success depend on your ability to be diplomatic and flexible.