As hard as it is to hear that you’re doing something incorrectly or need to improve a behavior, being the person who has to tell you can be worse.
It’s called constructive criticism and learning how to give it correctly is important for everyone, and not just in a work environment.
Constructive criticism doesn’t just come from your boss or supervisor. You may need to give suggestions for improvement to your co-workers, especially if you’re responsible for mentoring a new employee or if a co-worker’s action is impacting your performance.
So, regardless of the situation, everyone should know how to give construction criticism. Here are some hints to help you do it well.
The first part of planning is to ask yourself two important questions: does it need to be said and are you the person who needs to say it?
If your answer is no, then you should re-think what you’re doing. But if the answer to those questions is yes, then you should sit down and plan what you need to say, how to say it and when to say it.
The other question to ask is if the improvement needed is doable. You want to be sure that person has the ability to respond to the criticism, or implement the recommendations you’re going to give, before you give it.
For example, constructive criticism is NOT telling a first-time track runner who just lost a 100-yard dash against the Olympic record-holder that they “just need to run faster.”
Next, be sure to plan for a private conversation – this isn’t something to be done in front of everyone.
Also, ask permission. You should start the conversation by asking “Is it okay if I offer you some feedback?” This lets the person know you’re respectful of them and it also helps prepare them for the fact that you’re going to provide constructive criticism.
Begin with tact and humility and you should be off to a good start.
A lot of people recommend the “sandwich” method of delivering constructive criticism. Basically, you sandwich the need for improvement between two positive statements. For example, if a person needs to talk slower and not rush through a presentation, you might say the following:
"I really enjoyed your presentation and the information you gave. I had a bit of trouble keeping up and wished it didn’t go by so fast so I could take better notes. Maybe next time you give your terrific presentation, you could add a spot or two where someone slow like me could catch up? That way, no one will miss the really helpful points you’re making."
In this example, you’ve complimented, identified a problem and a potential solution and then repeated the compliment.
In using this method, you need to be sure not to use the word “but” or “however” when you start with the problem. It tends to negate what you just said and usually puts people on the defensive.
Don’t make it personal
Constructive criticism should always be about the action, not the person. You should focus on the behavior, rather than the personal characteristic. And be sure not to use the words “always” and “never” since they are rarely 100 percent accurate.
For example, you wouldn’t want to say “you’re always late to the meeting.” Instead, you could say, “I noticed you missed the first item on the meeting agenda again.”
You want to be sure to be specific enough to identify the problem, without “piling on” a bunch of negative items. The more specific you are, the better the person understands the problem and how to correct it.
For example, instead of staying “you’re not prepared,” you should say, “I’ve noticed you don’t have your tools and gear ready at 3 p.m. when you’re supposed to relieve me.”
How To Give It Out
It’s not enough to tell a person that they need to improve – you need to provide specific examples of how to improve and why it’s important for them to do so.
In our “don’t make it personal” example, you could say:
“I noticed you missed the first item on the meeting agenda, again. When you miss an important item, you come to me to catch up and that takes me from my duties. Maybe next week you could plan to arrive 5 minutes early, so you don’t have to get with me afterwards.”
And from the “be specific” example, you could say:
“I’ve noticed you don’t have your tools and gear ready at 3 p.m. when you’re supposed to relieve me. When this happens, I’m not able to leave on time and I’m late picking up my children from the babysitter. What do you think about having everything ready at 2:55 instead? That way, the production isn’t interrupted and we can continue to meet our hourly rates.”
In both these examples, you’ve explained the negative action and the impact it has. Then you’ve offered a potential solution and given them an idea of ‘how’ to solve the problem.
Throughout the planning and giving of the constructive criticism, be kind. It should be sincere and be motivated by a desire to help someone improve. Your tone of voice should be pleasant and friendly – not angry or upset. Your language should be positive, not accusatory.
And an important reminder: ask yourself how you would want someone to give the same criticism to you, if the positions were reversed. This will help you be sure you’re being kind and helpful.
Lastly, constructive criticism is meant to build up a person and help strengthen their skills and performance. If it doesn’t, it’s not constructive criticism.
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