How to Deliver Constructive Criticism in the Workplace

By Robert Half on April 15, 2016 at 7:00pm

Constructive criticism is much more than a routine staff management responsibility. Consistent, concise and honest feedback should also be a recurring feature of any long-term professional development plan.

If you’re hoping to train your employees to take on more advanced roles in the organization and meet your succession planning objectives, constructive criticism is one of the most valuable things you can offer as a manager. Helping staff members advance to the next level depends on your ability to identify specific areas for improvement, and to inspire your workers to take ownership of their own development.

To be effective, and not be misconstrued as a personal attack, constructive criticism must be delivered properly. Keep the following tips in mind the next time you provide feedback to your staff:

Avoid surprises

If you summon workers to your office for a formal meeting without advance notice, it is natural that they might feel intimidated – and therefore, not receptive to what you have to say.

To avoid an “ambush,” reach out to the employee to schedule the meeting at a time that works well for both of you and explain what you want to talk about. This shows consideration for the team member’s feelings, and also gives that person time to prepare for the discussion.

Be clear and offer examples

The ultimate goal of your meeting is to motivate the employee — in a positive way — to improve his or her performance. So, make sure that you come to the meeting prepared. When offering constructive criticism to a member of your team, you want to show that you’ve given the matter careful thought.

One strategy for preparation is to develop a clear and detailed outline of what you want to communicate. Ask yourself this core question: How do you want the employee to improve — and why?

Another tip: Use specific examples to tie your comments and recommendations directly to how the employee’s performance has an impact on your department and on your team’s ability to meet specific business objectives. Your feedback is likely to resonate more when there is context.

Make it a conversation

Even though you may be raising an issue with an employee that he or she may not have been previously aware of, you need to leave room for your staff member to respond or ask questions. Making the meeting a conversation also will help the employee feel more comfortable overall — and likely, more receptive to hearing constructive criticism and resolving to change.

Keeping your door open for a two-way conversation with your employee will make it easier for you both to “clear the air” and develop a plan of action for the future. You will find in some cases that workers will be more inclined to make a change for the better simply because they have had an opportunity to explain to you, person to person, the reasons something happened in the past.

Follow up

Ending meetings with specific action items is one of the most important steps to this whole process. It shows employees that the organization is sincerely interested in seeing them improve. It also gives staff members a structured path to follow so they can learn how to let go of old patterns of behavior and embrace new and more positive ones.

Consider scheduling a follow-up meeting — but be sure to give the employee a reasonable time period to make measurable changes in his or her performance. Depending on the type and level of constructive criticism you have provided, your staff member may need a few weeks, or longer, to fully process your comments and incorporate your guidance into his or her daily routine.

Preparation can make all the difference in whether your messages will be well-received. But be aware that some workers will be embarrassed, or even upset, to hear that their professional performance is not up to standards, no matter how thoughtfully prepared your comments are. So be sure to also provide encouragement and support along with your feedback to team members, and underscore that the reason you are taking the time to offer constructive criticism is because you want them to succeed.

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