As a manager, it’s your responsibility to give your employees feedback about their work. Unfortunately, communicating when and how something could have been done better is part of that task. It takes empathy and tact to give criticism in a manner that won’t be construed as a personal attack, but rather as an encouragement to improve. In short, giving constructive criticism is a skill, and it’s one all managers must master in order to get the best out of their employees. Fortunately, skills can be learned. Read on to learn some best practices for giving constructive criticism.
Put yourself in your employee’s shoes. Before addressing any issue, take a moment to put yourself in your employee’s shoes. Chances are he isn’t aware he’s making mistakes; in fact, he’s probably doing his best. Think back to an occasion when somebody gave you constructive criticism that really helped you in your career, and do your best to be as helpful to your employee.
Choose the time and place carefully. Being criticized is never fun. Choose the time and place to speak to your employee carefully. At an appropriate time when he’s not too busy, ask for a one-on-one meeting to discuss some issues. This will give him the opportunity to receive the criticism in private, without all of his colleagues listening in.
Be aware of your voice and body language. Somebody receiving criticism can adopt a defensive attitude—it’s a natural reaction when one’s attacked. That’s why you must use strong but non-confrontational body language. Respect your employee’s personal space while maintaining a confident posture and good eye contact. Breathe deeply and calmly, and don’t raise your voice. By being assured but not confrontational, you send the message that you’re in the right, yet without backing your employee into a corner.
Comment objectively on behavior. Focusing on actual behaviors that have negative consequences, instead of addressing characteristics you subjectively perceive to be the problem. For example, instead of assuming your employee is lazy and therefore misses deadlines, it’s far more constructive to focus on the measurable issue, i.e. the fact that he misses deadlines.
Use “I statements” to request specific changes for future occasions. It’s much easier to accept criticism when it’s delivered in the form of a request from the speaker’s point of view. So for example, instead of saying, “You always make a lot of mistakes in your report,” you could say, “I spend a considerable amount of time correcting your reports. In the future, could you please review your work for errors before submitting it?” This still gets the message across, but without sounding accusatory.
Highlight something positive first, carefully lead into the negative issue, and end on a compliment. It’s always advisable to let your employee know you noticed what he did well before launching into what he can improve on. You should also express confidence that your employee can make the requested change. For example, you could say, “I really appreciate your attention to detail in this report, and the first section is outstanding. However, the second section needs more work. I’m confident that with another take, you can get it right.” By complimenting your employee, you take the sting out of the criticism included in the message.
Offer your assistance. Constructive criticism is useless if your employee doesn’t know how to improve. Carefully discuss with him what the reasons are for the mistakes or issues in the first place; then find ways for him to improve. For example, if your employee’s reports are full of errors because he’s working too quickly and doesn’t review properly, encourage him to take more time on the next report so he can be more methodical, as well as review and if necessary, make revisions.
Check in. Remember to check in with your employee when he’s next working on a similar task. Ask him if he believes he’s improving. If he’s still facing obstacles, give him the encouragement and assistance he needs to overcome them.
Give praise. When your employee has addressed the unwanted behavior and made the desired improvements, make sure to thank him for his efforts and compliment his achievements.
Giving constructive criticism is a necessary part of any manager’s job. These best practices will help you do so in an effective, empathetic manner so both your employee and you benefit from the improved results.