"You made a good presentation at yesterday's meeting," you tell your employee, "but you should have begun with an overview of the key points."
If you give feedback in this form, you may think you're giving a compliment, but your employee may not hear it that way. Why? Because when you follow a positive statement with "but," you're signaling that a not-so-positive statement is next. This type of feedback has two parts: 1. positive feedback followed by 2. forget what you just heard because here comes the important information and it's not so good. After all, it would sound pretty strange to say:
"You made a good presentation at yesterday's meeting, but it was really easy to understand."
This good-but-bad format can trigger resentment and defensiveness that undermines both the compliment and the suggested improvement. Suppose, though, that the not-so-positive part of the feedback is justified; your employee really should have begun with an overview. If you want the person to accept and apply your feedback, make it but-free.
For example, you might say:
"You made a good presentation at yesterday's meeting. A way to make it even better next time would be to begin with an overview of the key points."
You can improve the positive part of the feedback by being specific. "Good presentation" is vague. If you want your employee to continue to give good presentations, explain what was good about it. For example:
"You made a good presentation at yesterday's meeting. You spoke with enthusiasm and held everyone's attention. Your description of the benefits and pitfalls of each of your recommendations will make the selection process easier for everyone. A way to make this type of presentation even better next time would be to begin with an overview of the key points."
Think about the potential impact of "but" when you're giving feedback, and use it judiciously. I could say more, but you are a savvy person who catches on quickly—proving that a compliment can follow the "but".