Effective Criticism Requires Skill, Not Knee-Jerk Reaction

Everyone needs feedback, but giving it effectively can be tricky, especially when the message is negative. Offering criticism properly can be immensely helpful, and providing it poorly can be counterproductive.

Here are 12 guidelines to remember the next time you have to tell someone that he or she has done something wrong:

  • Identify the behavior that you want to criticize. Direct your criticism at the action, not the person.
  • Make criticisms specific. Not: “You always miss deadlines.” But: “You missed the March 15 deadline for your report.”
  • Use “I” and “we” to stress that you want to work out the problem together, rather than making threats.
  • Make sure the other person understands the reason for your criticism.
  • Don’t belabor the point. Short and sweet; no lectures.
  • Offer incentives for changed behavior. Offer to help the person correct the problem.
  • Don’t set a tone of anger or sarcasm. Both are counterproductive.
  • Show the person you understand his or her feelings.
  • If you’re putting your criticism in writing, cool off before writing the critical letter or memo. Be sure that only the person for whom it is intended sees it.
  • Start off by saying something good, then gently shift the conversation over to the criticism. A transitional statement like “One area that could use improvement . . .” frames the problem as an opportunity for growth.
  • At the end, reaffirm your support and confidence in the person.

Used with some forethought and finesse, these strategies for effective criticism can produce the changes you want . . . while keeping morale and mutual respect intact.

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