How to Deliver Constructive Criticism

Regardless of your position, or the industry in which you work, you will most likely need to deliver criticism to a co-worker at some stage in your career. Nobody enjoys this responsibility, but there are several steps that you can take to make sure everyone achieves the best possible outcome while maintaining a positive workplace dynamic.

Step One: Identify the Problem

There can be many factors at play when you first realise that someone might be doing something wrong. Allow yourself time to make sure that you have your facts straight, and that personal feelings aren't coming into play before proceeding. When appropriate it might help to speak with someone else in a management position who can be objective and give you advice about how to approach the issue.

Step Two: Choose Your Timing

Timing can play a large role in ensuring your criticism is well received, and able to be acted upon. If you need to speak with someone about a single incident, make sure you allow time for the person to compose themselves, then try to have the discussion as soon as possible. If your issue is an ongoing one, schedule a meeting ahead of time so that it doesn't feel like an ambush.

Step Three: Focus on the Issue

Make sure that the heavier part of the discussion is centered around the incident or behaviour in question. The key to delivering constructive criticism is that the person does not feel attacked, and instead comes out of the experience knowing what areas they need to work on, rather than feeling like a failure.

Step Four: Encourage Discussion

If the interaction is one-sided then the other person may shut down, or become defensive. Offering them the chance to give their side of the story can give you insight into why the problem has occurred, and might even change the way you approach the issue from now on. Provide reassurance that the rest of their performance is not in question, talk about what they do well, and maintain a tone that is professional and conversational.

Step Five: Offer Solutions

If you are coming to someone with a problem, then you need to be prepared to let them know how you think they can make things better. If they have ideas, you can discuss them together, but it is important to give guidance and to make your expectations clear. Express your confidence in the solutions offered, and in the person's abilities to turn things around.

Step Six: Provide Support

Set a time frame in which you want the issue to be rectified, and follow up when appropriate to show that you care about their progress. When someone's performance is questioned it can have an impact on their confidence levels, so a little bit of support and positive feedback in the weeks after a difficult discussion can go a long way. Tell them you are impressed with the efforts they have made to make changes, or offer further advice if they need it. The follow up can be just as important as the actual criticism so take advantage of this opportunity to make sure everyone involved feels positive about the process.

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