The Art of Constructive Criticism
Author: Michael Scaletti
Delivering constructive criticism and negative feedback can be immensely uncomfortable, not to mention fraught with the risk of insulting your coworkers and ruining relationships. Sometimes though, uncomfortable or not, it has to be done. In those situations, you need to know how to deliver your feedback in the most constructive and beneficial manner possible. It’s never easy, but these tips can help you get to there.
Deliver it Privately: No one wants to be embarrassed in front of their coworkers, and so being sensitive about where you deliver your feedback can be just as important as being conscientious about how you deliver your feedback. Plus, communication in private provides the least stressful, and least likely to be misunderstood, environment to hear a critique.
Don’t Email Your Feedback: Emails lack tone and context. While you can provide some of that with punctuation and formatting, it is still a format that is exceptionally easy to misunderstand. This can easily lead to offense when it comes to providing criticism. Don’t do it. Save your feedback for a private in person meeting.
Ensure Your Feedback is Constructive: Sometimes the situation that leads to criticism needing to be provided in the first place can lead to frustration, and that in turn can lead to anger and resentment. Make sure you are not providing feedback from that place. Don’t attack your coworkers, and don’t pile on every little frustration. The goal is to build them up, not tear them down. Don’t just explain how their behavior or actions is negatively affecting the workplace. Also provide suggestions on how they can improve and grow so that they know there is a path to success.
Don’t Wait Around: Because providing criticism can be so uncomfortable, it is easy to be tempted into putting it off for another day. Don’t fall into that trap. The longer you wait to provide the feedback you feel is necessary, the more likely it is that behavior will become compounded and resentment and anger will build up. This helps no one. If you truly feel that your workplace and your coworker would benefit from the input you can provide, put on your big kid pants and provide it.
Provide Reassurance and Support: Don’t forget to let your coworker know that you believe in them and want them to succeed. It is easy for someone receiving criticism to feel attacked or discouraged. Make sure that doesn’t happen by ensuring they know you are rooting for them. Once you have outlined the places where they need to improve, ask if they need anything from you, if there is any support you could provide to help them succeed.
Come Up With a Plan: You’ve identified the areas where an employee needs to improve their performance. You’ve given that feedback. You’ve made it clear that you support them and want them to succeed. Your next step should be working with them to come up with an actionable plan to improve their performance. This could be giving them access to further coaching or education, providing mentorship, suggesting they work with other coworkers you think would help them grow and improve, or any number of other paths to improvement. The key is that you have a plan, that it is clear and understandable, and that it consists of distinct, actionable parts.
Follow Up: Providing truly constructive criticism isn’t just a one time event. Once you’ve followed the steps above its worth taking the time to ensure that the person stays on track. Set up a time for a followup meeting. Go back over your plan, go over the progress made, and see if there are any adjustments or tweaks that can be made to it to ensure even greater success.