How to Give Criticism That’s Genuinely Constructive

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A little lost for words?

Two young stylish women sitting and talking

It’s easy to hide behind a screen, but if you want to be the kind of manager or boss that people respect, have the courage to have difficult conversations face-to-face. “If you can’t meet your staff member in person, then over the phone would be the next best option,” recommends career advisor Katie Roberts.

Katie also says to find a time as close to the incident as possible. Don’t wait for the next monthly meeting or, worse still, the annual review to bring up feedback because your staff member won’t even remember doing whatever it is you’re bringing up. “The sooner you talk, the better,” Katie says.

Do it from a place of kindness

Alexandra Levit, author of Blind Spots: 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe, says, “I offer criticism from the viewpoint of caring for the person and their career. In other words, ‘I’m telling you this because I think you’re amazing and want to see you go far’.”

“Criticism for the sake of criticising is an ego-driven activity that satisfies no-one except you and has no place in the workplace.”

Alexandra says the feedback you’re giving really needs to be intended to help someone improve a skill or behaviour. “It is given with a positive attitude and uses specific examples to ensure clarity and appropriate follow up by the receiver,” she adds.

If you’re too angry, pause

To ensure the feedback you’re giving is genuinely constructive, Alexandra recommends asking yourself these questions: “Is this remark based on a legitimate work issue, or is it driven by a personal feeling I have towards this person? Have others observed the behaviour I’m criticising? Can I provide examples of this behaviour in action? Am I currently angry or highly emotional? If so, can I wait to deliver this criticism until I’m in a calmer, more positive frame of mind?”

Lay down the positive groundwork

If you regularly give your staff positive feedback when they do well, then you’ll be in a much better place to give them feedback that will be taken on. Alison Green, who runs the blog Ask A Manager, says, “Managers don’t need to tiptoe around giving feedback like that. If you give plenty of positive feedback on a regular basis, then you’re going to have laid the right groundwork for being able to give critical feedback when you need to.

“On the other hand, if you’re stingy with positive feedback, then, sure, negative feedback isn’t likely to go over well. The key is in getting the balance right. But you want to look at that balance over the course of, say, a month – not try to cram it all into a single conversation.”

Forget the workplace hierarchy for a second

“Take yourself off your pedestal as you are not admonishing them. You are simply discussing an area that requires attention,” career management coach Jane Jackson says. “Rather than criticise, ask how they felt the situation, problem, project or issue went and if they think it went as well as expected. Ask them if things could have gone better.”

Once you’ve let them give their side, then you can provide your view. “They may then come to their own solution for improvement or you could say, ‘I have some suggestions that could help for the future…’ and then ask for their comments afterwards,” Jane says.

“Remember that constructive criticism must come from a position of genuine care and love. It helps the recipient to grow and learn. Criticism for the sake of criticising is an ego-driven activity that satisfies no-one except you and has no place in the workplace.”

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