The truth about constructive criticism

“You must have the brain of a fruit fly to think you could get away with producing such rubbish. My two-year old could have done a better job than you.”

That’s a fail when it comes to winning friends and influencing people in a work setting. Being at the receiving end of such feedback makes you feel bad. If you don’t want to demotivate, humiliate, shame or anger others then it’s a good idea to learn more about giving criticism.

If you don’t want to demotivate, humiliate, shame or anger others then it’s a good idea to learn more about giving criticism.

Criticism isn’t nice, but it has to be given at work and the sooner you learn to give and receive constructive criticism the easier your career will be.

Here are some quick tips on how to give criticism:

  • Have good intentions and don’t base feedback on emotion. You want to give feedback to make improvements in the work situation, not because you don’t like someone or are doing it “for their own good”.
  • Criticise actions, not people. An example of this could be: “It would be good for the project if you could liaise with John”, not “you haven’t liaised with John even after I told you to.”
  • Focus on a goal. Write down a couple of bullet points on what the outcome of the feedback should be and keep as a reference. Remember the goal is the completion of the task not simply an excuse to criticise someone you don’t like.
  • Sandwich criticism between two commendations.
  • Put the other person in the driving seat by asking if he or she could come up with a better way for the situation to be handled.
  • Be prepared to take criticism, it will help you grow in your role whether you’re a manager or employee.

A one-size-fits-all approach to constructive criticism doesn’t always work. If you’re dealing with difficult people try some of these approaches:

  1. The passive aggressive person. Defuse the passive aggressive person by empathising. It will help disarm him or her.
  2. The workaholic. Workaholics sometimes feel like they are swimming upstream without a paddle. They need people and resources to help them. Acknowledge this in your constructive criticism. “More often than not workaholics are operating with the best of intentions,” says Adrian Oldham, regional director at Michael Page. “But they may not be working smartly. It is about providing them with direction.”
  3. The defensive person.The defensive boss, employee or co-worker is highly sensitive underneath so you need to build trust and give the other person the feeling that you believe he or she is competent.
  4. The overly ambitious junior. Question your motivation for the criticism. Someone’s age shouldn’t be a barrier to climbing the ranks if they are good. But rather than push him or her away, treat the constructive criticism as taking the person under your wing. Ambitious juniors can be defensive, says Oldham. It’s important therefor to be friendly and empathetic, but make it clear who is setting the direction. “It is more important with an overly ambitious junior to sandwich (the message) to provide encouragement.”
  5. The complainer. Take time to understand what the complainer wants. Don’t get involved in a grumble-a-thon. Concentrate on the positive aspect of the criticism.

The truth about constructive criticism is that it won’t always immediately result in a positive outcome. But when delivered or received with consistency and consideration it will help you develop into a stronger more productive person.

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