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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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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

Example 1

You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

Example 2

You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

Example 3

You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

Example 4

You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

  • Understand your own communication style
  • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
  • Communicate with precision and care
  • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

1. Understand Your Communication Style

To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

2. Learn Others Communication Styles

Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

“How do you prefer to receive information?”

This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

3. Exercise Precision and Care

A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

“Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

The Bottom Line

When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

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Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

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