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Killer Formulas To Give Constructive Criticism At Work

Killer Formulas To Give Constructive Criticism At Work

We spend a significant portion of our lives at work, often in the company of people who we either dislike or have little in common with. Given this, alternative methods of working and the pressure of project deadlines, it is all too easy for frustrations to boil over and a blame culture to emerge.

This is extremely detrimental, however, as such a culture encourages us to apportion blame to our colleagues while judging their performances harshly and subjectively. Only criticism without  judgement can truly be constructive, so it is crucial that you hone your communications skills if you are to create a more positive working environment.

1. Tackle the Problem rather than the person

When workplace projects or processes go awry, it is crucial that you analyse the failings and learn critical lessons going forward. This is not possible if you focus your comments on the person rather than the problem, however, as this manifests itself as a personal attack that distracts from the issues at hand and does not take into account any extenuating circumstances that may have led to the failings.

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Let’s say that your colleague has given an uninspiring presentation that has failed to wow a new client. Even if you critique with good intentions, using emotive words such as ‘boring’ and applying these to the person rather than the presentation is counter-productive in the extreme and likely to prevent further constructive dialogue. Instead, try to use passive language that is focused objectively on the presentation alone and avoid any personal references. When you do offer feedback, be sure to give each individual point context by offering suggestions for improvement (such as making points in a more concise manner).

2. Understand the goal of offering criticism and share this with your colleague

We have already touched on how emotive language can prevent constructive criticism, but the same principle applies to the way in which you deliver your critique. Directing anger and frustration at the recipient can cause them to shut down, for example, while seemingly aimless and unstructured criticism leaves them with no potential to improve or progress going forward.

If you are tasked with appraising an under-performing employee, for example, it is crucial that you break down each point of criticism and determine the precise motivation for delivering each one. So if you criticise their application because you want them to fulfil their potential in the workplace and share this with the recipient, they can consider the feedback in context while benefiting from an actionable future goal. From your perspective, try using the mind-mapping technique to create a visual representative of your thoughts so that these can be organised and clearly communicated through feedback.

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3. Focus on Tackling actionable issues

Even though each piece of constructive criticism will have its own unique motivation, as a general rule such feedback is designed to either help drive personal and collaborative improvement or recover from a mistake. With this in mind, it is imperative that you only critique things which are within the recipient’s control, such as their attitude, application and level of skill. This is constructive criticism that enables your colleagues to take actionable steps towards improvements, whereas a general critique of external factors will leave them disillusioned and helpless.

In practical terms, let’s imagine that your colleague is organising a corporate event and has already paid in-full to secure a venue in a remote and difficult to access location. Instead of critiquing their choice and repeatedly saying that the venue is inadequate, it is far better to focus on what can be done to resolve the problem and make good on the investment. Laying on transportation for guests offers a viable solution, for example, as does being empathetic with guests to avoid further backlash.

4. Understand the issues at hand and do not make assumptions

Empathy is crucial to constructive criticism, as is a keen sense of objectivity. These two attributes enable you to understand the other person’s perspective, while also imploring you to understand the issues in detail before responding. In short, you need to act based on what you know rather than what you think, as this ensures that any feedback that you offer is constructive, fair and easy for the recipient to identify with.

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Let’s say that your colleague is tasked with presenting an update on a specific project, but is only able to deliver an uncertain speech that confused his managers and stakeholders. While it may be natural to assume that this performance was a result of nerves and inexperience (and subsequently suggest that someone else makes the presentation next time), this is not based on fact and does not take any additional factors into consideration. The issue may be a lack of preparation time to the pressure of work, for example, while there may be other circumstances that affected your colleague’s performance.

Either way, this more considered approach improves the quality and delivery of your feedback while also driving informed decision-making.

5. Empower Colleagues with specific and honest feedback

Whenever you aim to offer constructive criticism in the workplace, there is a need to be as specific and as honest as you possibly can. In terms of the former, excellent clarity of thought and an ability to articulate your critique concisely creates specific points for improvement, eliminating any ambiguity that may exist in the recipient’s mind. The value of this can be reinforced with honest and open communication, as this type of direct interaction drives succinct and easy-to-understand actions going forward.

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If you imagine that a sales colleague is struggling to engage buyers, you may look to offer them a critique concerning the effectiveness of their communication. This instantly open to conjecture, however, as this could apply to internal or external relationships while it may also relate to written or verbal communication. Instead, use specific and focused language to describe the issue in detail, stating that the colleague in question has an issue when talking to buyers.

It is also sensible to advocate the consequences of this problem, such as diminishing sales and a decline in turnover. This helps your colleague to understand the importance of the problem and the need to act on the criticism.

6. Use the Feedback sandwich method to underpin your constructive criticism

Blame culture and non-constructive criticism thrive in a climate of fear and short-term thinking, as people are more concerned with hiding their mistakes than taking on greater responsibility in the workplace. It is therefore important that you use sustainable methods to deliver constructive criticism, creating a culture of fairness in which workers are empowered to improve through feedback.

This is where the ‘feedback sandwich’ method of delivering constructive criticism comes into play, as this simple technique includes three segments that focus on an individual’s strengths and areas for improvement. When critiquing a colleagues performance, you start by discussing strengths and positive elements before continuing with constructive criticism and actionable suggestions for improvement. You then complete the process by reiterating the positive comments made at the start, while reinforcing the impact that the suggested improvements will have once implemented.

Whether you are critiquing a negative character trait or a piece of work, this method drives balanced feedback and incentivizes workers to make positive changes for the future.

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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