Nothing makes people bristle more quickly than unfair or unsolicited criticism. In a perfect world, leaders would not have a need to criticize employees. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone has room to improve.
When constructive criticism is required, there are a number of techniques that inspire employees to improve their work, rather than making them feel inadequate.
Criticism is a Form of Feedback
The word criticism carries a negative connotation while feedback implies participation of two parties. “A two-way give and take where both people learn and grow,” says James. You learn when you give and receive feedback. When you provide feedback instead of criticism, you and your employee will feel relaxed and receptive.
Don’t Delay Criticism
Criticism needs to be delivered in a way that is clear, direct, and timely. Don’t delay until an employee’s annual performance review.
“Reviews are about salaries; criticism is about developing the employee,” says James. When you pay attention to an employee’s behavior and appreciate their experience, it will help them get into a learning mode.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
If you wait for the right moment to bring up problems to an employee, they most likely will be overwhelmed. Don’t delay criticism; it is best given in real time or immediately after a problem occurs.
Don’t try to persuade employees to do things the way you do them. Everyone works in different ways, and your way may not work for them. Instead, ask questions to uncover any potential misunderstandings or miscommunication.
James suggests you ask questions such as:
- Why do you approach this situation this way?
- What do you think could use improvement?
If you ask these questions, they will help your employees discover their own solutions.
Listen and Acknowledge
James says, “When you listen to an employee and acknowledge what he or she has to say, you learn about the world from that employee’s point of view.”
Often when you listen to someone’s responses to questions, you have at least one “Aha!” moment which improves your own understanding. This allows you to provide much more constructive feedback.
Focus On the Issue, Not the Person
When you provide feedback or criticize employees, remember you are addressing a certain behavior that needs improvement, not the employee. If an employee is late, identify that as a behavior they must work to change.
James says to never say “You’re unreliable! You’ve been late three times this week!” Instead address the behavior like so: “You’re usually punctual, but this week you have been late three times. What’s up?” You will never be able to change a personality, but you can affect the outside behaviors that result from it.
It’s never comfortable when you have to communicate to an employee on how to improve their performance, but it is important. Even as an experienced leader, you might find it difficult to let employees know where they need improvement. However, there are times when constructive feedback is essential to maintain excellence and strong relationships. When criticism is handled with finesse, it can promote growth and improvement.
What other tips would you add?
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