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How to Offer Constructive Criticism at Work – 6 Manager Tips

From entry-level employees to CEOs, we’ve all been critiqued at one point or another. If you’re lucky, feedback was delivered in a respectful, professional manner that took into account the complexities of the business world. The funny thing is, if you experienced criticism like that, you might not even remember it happened!

How so? 

Because if it came from a talented supervisor who understood how to give constructive feedback, they probably focused on diagnosing the issue and suggesting next steps, without making you feel personally attacked. And while it’s true that difficult interactions are unavoidable from time to time, most constructive criticism at work has the potential to strengthen relationships, improve performance, and create a healthier office environment. 

Here are 6 strategies you can leverage to get started. 

Aim for good timing 

If you’ve ever broached a sensitive topic with a loved one, you probably already know that timing matters. Of course, there won’t ever be a perfect time, but pay attention to your employee’s workload, their overall mood (might something difficult be happening in their lives?), and make sure you maintain privacy during your conversation. Avoid catching your employees off guard by scheduling a meeting with some time in advance. 

Keep your communication consistent 

Before approaching staff members with critiques, it’s important to build a strong rapport. Learn how your employees operate and what kind of communicators they are. Try to interact with a similar disposition when you have something great to say, and when you have constructive criticism to offer.  

Pro Tip: Don’t save your interaction with team members only for when things go wrong! If you are consistent in your messaging over time, constructive criticism will less likely be perceived as admonishment, or finger-pointing. Indeed, maintaining consistent communication is key to building a strong team. 

Don’t sandwich your criticism between compliments!

If you aren’t familiar with the dreaded “feedback sandwich,” allow us to elaborate. 

This technique involves squeezing constructive criticism between a few “slices” of positive feedback. The problem with this isn’t very complicated: Your employees know what you are doing! For one, it comes across as disingenuous. Besides that, it muddles your message and makes their objectives unclear. While it’s extremely important to offer positive feedback, try keeping it separate, to the extent that you can. You’ll need to feel this out in each situation, but it’s much better to have employees who understand your communication style, than who can’t predict your true intentions.  

Be straightforward and clear 

Sounds easy, right? Maybe not so much! For better or worse, being straightforward is the most effective way to deliver constructive criticism. If employees sense you are tense, worried, or nervous, they are likely to mirror those emotions internally, and express them outwardly.  If, on the other hand, you approach the conversation like any other, showing that you are ready to offer support and guidance, they will more likely hear you.

Be open to feedback

When people hear criticism, it’s not uncommon to either become defensive, or shrink back. Give your employees time to consider key points from the conversation. Ask questions about why things didn’t go as planned, and be open to their concerns. Don’t hesitate to adjust your critique if you become privy to new information. Finally, if needed, allow them the opportunity to think about your feedback before responding in full, even if that means setting up a secondary meeting. 

Follow up 

This is a crucial step in the process! Check on your employees to see if you notice a difference in outcomes. If you see clear improvements, make sure to offer acknowledgment and praise. If the situation hasn’t been improved, reevaluate things and decide if there is a better way to handle the situation. 

In closing, don’t be hard on yourself!

The reality is that learning how to give constructive criticism at work takes time. You’ll never do it perfectly, but with a bit of studying, coupled with some good old fashioned trial and error, you’ll get the hang of it!

By: The Judge Group

Topics : Articles, Employee Management, Judge Tips

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