Number 7, July 2007
THE LOVING TREES NEWSLETTER
Giving Constructive Criticism
Successful managers provide timely and specific positive and constructive feedback to their employees and colleagues. However, corrective, constructive criticism is harder to provide than positive, reinforcing feedback. Done poorly, it can be unnecessarily confrontational and emotional. Giving effective, constructive criticism involves three discrete steps.
1. Provide constructive feedback in a one-on-one setting. State the purpose of the meeting with something like, “I want to give you some feedback on your work.” Do not give feedback during lunch; give it in a one-on-one, private session. A feedback session is not a long, rambling monologue; this dilutes its purpose and power. Deliver the message in a single, focused conversation with no small talk.
2. Be specific. Specify what is wrong and how it must improve relative to previously stated expectations. Simply identifying what’s wrong is not corrective and does not explain why the behavior is problematic. Focus on behaviors, not the person. Constructive criticism should focus on specific actions or behaviors that the person can change or do something about.
Avoid generalizations such as “You are always late” or “You are rude”; these are easily countered with one example. Instead, say something specific, such as, “When Mr. Jones arrived at our store you did not greet him or shake his hand.” If an employee failed to provide enough details or figures in a project proposal, specify what kind of additional information was needed. Then ask questions to confirm their understanding of the feedback. Focus on the behavior and actions you want changed, not the person.
3. Reinforce the relationship. Since the criticism concerned a specific action or performance level and not the person, do not rationalize the behavior for the person or analyze the situation. You want a behavior change, not a therapy session. A manager should send the message that he or she values the person, but not the specific behavior or performance in question. This is part of an ongoing, productive working relationship.
It is kind and honest to let employees and colleagues know exactly where they stand. Effective feedback requires direct, truthful communication. Sometimes, it can be more direct than people are used to, but the most successful teams and organizations communicate directly. Over time, such direct communication helps build honest, open relationships between managers and employees.
The Loving Trees Newsletter. Copyright © 2007 Brooks C Mendell. All rights reserved. We welcome sharing this newsletter in whole or in part if properly cited and attributed.