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How to Deliver Constructive Criticism

How do you deliver constructive criticism in ways that will strengthen everyone’s work while avoiding unnecessary frustration or upset – particularly when reflecting on bad performance?

Helpful communication is just as vital to a healthy workplace as to any other relationship, while good, it’s easier said than done to achieve, and many managers may find themselves struggling. Here are some helpful tips to handle this difficult and often thankless task.

Cover the Basics

  • No surprises: never blindside an employee.
  • Include positive: never deliver undiluted negative comments.
  • Coach: use the conversation as a leadership development opportunity.
  • Detail: instead of generalizations, express documented specifics.

Set Clear Expectations

Harvard Business Review suggests setting clear expectations between employee and employer at the beginning of employment as key to a successful review later. In one study, the supervisor admitted that he “should have worked harder in the beginning to understand the specifics of [the employee’s] job and set clear expectations.”

Promote a Team Environment

When you elicit specific help from employees and ask for their feedback on projects, you will see more positive results, especially when you go to do their review. In order to make the employee feel like part of the team, ask for their input. This creates a partnership where the employee feels respected and valued.

Focus on the performance, not the person.

During an employee review, focus on the specific details. Do not mention their personality difficulties: this could easily anger him/her. To maintain a positive conversation, The American Management Association suggests, “Instead of traits, keep your evaluation focused on two things: Behaviors and results.

Form a Proactive Plan

Managers should help the employee to develop a clear, concise plan of specific actions to correct the problems. Goals should be actionable and measurable. Leave the meeting on a positive note by writing down a specific, measurable plan for the employee’s forthcoming success. Then, afterward, continue an ongoing, informal conversation on a weekly basis to check in on the employee’s progress.


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