Most managers agree that it is uncomfortable to deliver negative feedback to an employee and will often try to avoid the task. However, there are secrets to giving constructive criticism that will lessen the blow and help the person succeed which is, after all, the ultimate goal.
The benefits of providing constructive criticism include professional development, clarified expectations, a stronger working relationship and overall organizational growth. It will help an employee understand what they are doing well and what they need to work on. In fact, studies have shown that more than half the respondents preferred receiving constructive criticism to help them improve their performance rather than just positive feedback. Most people want to do better and know there is always room for improvement. Employees want to know where they need to focus their efforts to make changes.
A meeting without notice can take an employee off-guard and make him or her feel ambushed or intimidated. Scheduling a meeting and explaining what will be discussed will give the employee notice and a chance to prepare feedback to help make the meeting productive. Never provide individual feedback in a group setting. Privacy helps to avoid the feeling of being singled out and avoids the feeling of destructive criticism. Always try to meet face to face rather than via Skype or Facetime, as tempting as they can be. Meeting in person allows you to read each other’s nonverbal cues and emotional intent.
Many managers focus more about how to soften the blow rather than what they are going to say. First of all, there is no need to sugarcoat constructive criticism by surrounding it with compliments. This is often termed “the compliment sandwich” where negative feedback is sandwiched between two pieces of positive feedback. This is an insincere way of discussing feedback However, it is important to note an employee’s strengths during the meeting while pointing out areas of improvement to form a cohesive unit of feedback for a specific topic. Avoid a condescending tone of voice and keep your language positive. Saying “I would love to hear you speak up more at meetings” is much easier to hear than “You don’t speak up enough at meetings.”
Be sure to focus on the person’s actions, not the person. For example, instead of saying a person is disorganized, rather state they aren’t as structured as needed. This focuses on what the person is doing and how to improve; not their personality. Prepare to give concrete examples of how the employee could have handled past situations better as well as solutions for how the employee can deal with similar situations in the future. Sometime it can be helpful to give a personal anecdote or an inspiring story of someone famous who went through the same thing if applicable. The employee should be able to explain his or her side of the story and ask questions about how to improve. Be empathetic and listen to what the employee has to say. This conversational dialogue can also help the manager tailor their feedback and advice to the employee. Close out the conversation with a discussion of next steps, how you can be helpful and then decide together on the timing for a follow-up meeting. A day or two later after the employee has had a chance to process the meeting, check in with him or her to inquire how they are feeling. It can be natural to feel wounded even after productive feedback. The key to strong relationships is looping back. This will help you earn trust which will make sharing feedback the next time easier.
Learning the art of constructive criticism isn’t easy and giving feedback won’t always go over well, even when you do everything right. No matter how skillful you are at delivering feedback, it still stings. It is important to remember that, like most things in life, you will get better with experience.
written by Tonia DeCosimo