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11/27 2012

6 Rules for Constructive Criticism

While many leaders find providing positive feedback to be an easy and enriching thing to do, many more shy-away from telling people that they need to improve.   Unfortunately, failing to provide timely feedback not only results in continued employee performance issues. but also reflects negatively on the leader’s ability as a manager.

Writing in the November on-line version of Inc. magazine, author Geoffrey James provides the following six tips for leaders to follow when providing constructive criticism:

  1. Treat Criticism as a Form of Feedback — the term “criticism” carries a negative connotation, and implies a one-way discussion.   Instead, see yourself as providing “feedback” to your employee, which automatically turns the discussion into a two-way communication meeting.  During this meeting, you will learn by giving feedback, while your employee will learn by receiving the feedback.
  2. Provide Criticism on an Ongoing Basis — many managers delay providing negative feedback until the employee’s annual performance review.   This is a mistake, not only in terms of not providing timely performance feedback, but also because you run the risk of the employee being focused on salary and bonus  issues (rather than personal growth and development issues).   Instead, provide regular feedback on performance throughout the year.
  3. Dole Out Criticism in Small Doses — stockpiling many issues and bringing them up at one time is likely to overwhelm employees.    Instead, provide feedback on issues as they occur, which will make your feedback more impactful.  Provide positive feedback when you see behavior change that is headed in the right direction, but also continue to point-out areas where additional improvement is also needed.
  4. Begin By Asking Questions — try not to simply persuade employees to do things as you would do them yourself; instead, try to find the root of specific problems or issues by asking questions.  Asking questions such as the following can help engage employees in finding a solution to problems, and can be a valuable learning experience for both you and your employee:   Ask questions such as “Why did you approach the situation in this way?”, “How could we have done better?”, and “What do you think could use improvement?”.
  5. Listen, Acknowledge, and Learn — don’t go into the employee meeting feeling as though you have a full understanding of the issue or problem.  Instead, listen to your employee, and acknowledge his/her point of view.   This can help you understand the employee’s perspective and motivations, and can help you better resolve the situation.
  6. Address the Behavior, Not the Person — remember, your discussion has nothing to do with your personal feelings towards the employee.   Instead, focus on the specific behavior (or behaviors) that need to be changed for success.

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