For many people, constructive criticism is hard to take. It’s probably even harder to give. Communicating with your team effectively is critically tied to your overall performance. It’s a necessity that a manager, team leader, or supervisor be able to identify and resolve issues without causing more problems than there were in the first place! I have definitely learned this the hard way throughout the years… Despite your best intentions, people can react surprisingly differently than you might have imagined when faced with direct criticism.

So, I offer my five-step guide to effective constructive criticism:

  1. Offer a compliment about the subject of criticism
  2. Do a credibility-building introduction
  3. Explain and discuss the specific criticism
  4. Make recommendations on how to improve the issues
  5. Summarize and end on a positive

1. Offer a compliment about the subject of criticism

No one does everything wrong, so identify what was done well and compliment the person on it. The compliment should be specific to the subject at hand. This is important because it balances out the conversation. In retrospect, the discussion can be remembered as not an entirely negative interaction. It also boosts the person up before knocking them down.

2. Do a credibility-building introduction

Open by explaining why you are particularly suited to criticize in this case. Using phrases like “because I say so” or “because I am your boss” are good ways to build contempt, not credibility. With strong personality types, you need to establish your experience or knowledge to be seen as a credible source. With other more emotional or anti-authority personality types, this might need to be an admission of lack of knowledge or experience to bring you down to that person’s level—to these people, peers are always more credible (and less scary) than bosses.

3. Explain and discuss the specific criticism

Precisely explain what you are criticizing and why. Be specific and keep it relevant to the subject—criticize what was done, and never the individual person. You may have questions that need to be answered… Pose the questions at the end of or during the explanation, but have the person wait to answer them. Complete your full explanation, and then you can begin a two-way discussion. This discussion will probably lead naturally in to the next step.

4. Make recommendations on how to improve the issues

Criticism by itself is not any good without a way to fix the problem. Instead of dictating what must be done, make suggestions and recommendations on how to improve the outcome of the situation. Clearly indicate how any changes will be evaluated (by a follow-up meeting, subsequent project outcome, or whatever).

5. Summarize and end on a positive

To conclude, sum up the conversation by touching on each of previous four areas. Start with reiterating your credibility, then the criticism itself, recommendations and follow-up, and end on the compliment.

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