Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

More by this author

10 Reasons A Long-Distance Relationship Will Work 12 iPhone 6 Tricks You Probably Don’t Know But Should We Are Often Confused Empathy With Sympathy but What’s The Difference Actually? To Make Wise Decisions, Ask Yourself These Questions Every Time No Matter What You Say, the First Thing People Pay Attention to Is Only How You Say It

Trending in Communication

1 What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships 2 How To Stop Negative Thoughts from Killing Your Confidence 3 This 4-Year Old Girl’s Explanation On the Problem with New Year’s Resolutions Is Everything You Need 4 What You Really Need to Feel Secure in a Relationship 5 7 Signs You’re Ready to Change Your Life (And What to Do Next)

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on January 15, 2019

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

When I wrote my book Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide, I was surprised at the various layers of review and editing necessary to get the book to publication. Before I ever submitted the manuscript, I enlisted a former colleague to read and copy edit my work. Then, I submitted my work to an editor at the publisher’s house, and once she approved it, she sent it to her colleagues and then her company’s editorial board.

Upon editorial board approval of my book, my editor sent my work to reviewers in my field, then a developmental editor, then a designer and layout team and, finally, another copy editor. There were a host of personalities with whom I needed to interact along the way.

It turns out that getting a publishing contract was just the beginning – a lot happens between developing a concept, writing the book, finding an agent and publisher, and getting the book on bookshelves or on Audible or Kindle. Through every milestone of the publishing process, my ability to interact with others was crucial. This underscored for me that no matter what or how much a person accomplishes, you never do it alone – everyone needs assistance from others.

While I conceived of the book and wrote the manuscript, there is no way my book could have hit booksellers’ shelves without the dozens of people who were involved in the publishing process. Further, interpersonal skills can propel or stonewall success.

Even as someone who has written hundreds of essays, press releases, pitch notes and other correspondence, writing itself is not a solitary endeavor. Sure, I may write in solitude, but the moment I am finished writing, there are always clients, colleagues, partners, peers and others who review my content.

What is more, even as a published author and contributor for this platform, I try to never submit final copy (content) that has not been copy edited. I send everything to my copy editor, whom I pay out of my own pocket, for her review, edits and approval. Once she has reviewed my work, caught unbeknownst-to-me errors, I am much more confident putting my work out in the world.

How Interpersonal Skills Affect Relationships

It is clearer to me now more than ever before that interpersonal skills are needed in every profession and every trade.

Advertising

People don’t elect leaders because the leaders are smart. Individuals are motivated to vote when they have a hero and when they feel they have something to lose. If they seriously dislike the other candidate, they are much more likely vote according to a 2000 Ohio State University study:

“A disliked candidate is seen as a threat, and that will be motivation to go to the polls. But a threat alone isn’t enough – people need to have a hero to vote for, too, in order to inspire them to turn out on Election Day.”

In a work setting, interpersonal skills impact every facet of your development and success. Trainers must collaborate with a design team or the company hiring them to facilitate the training. During the training itself, the facilitators must connect with the audience and establish a rapport that supports vulnerability and openness. If the trainers interact poorly with the trainees, they are unlikely to be invited back. If they are invited back, they may be unlikely to inspire cooperation or growth in their trainees.

Solopreneurs interactions with clients and subcontractors, and those interactions will, in part, support or adversely impact their business. If you enjoy a career as an acclaimed surgeon or respected lawyer, your interactions with patients, clients, health insurance agencies and a team of other practitioners – many of whom are shielded from public view – will improve or decimate your practice.

As a hiring manager, one of the things I consider when interviewing candidates is their interpersonal skills. I assess the interpersonal skills they display in their content and face-to-face presentation. I ask probing questions to learn how they interact with others, manage conflict and contribute to a team atmosphere.

When candidates say things like, “I prefer to work alone” or “I can hit the ground running without assistance,” I bristle. When candidates appear to know everything and everyone, I wonder if they will be receptive to learning or open to feedback. Could these statements be indications that these individuals lack interpersonal skills?

It stands to reason, then, that interpersonal skills are among the most valuable and the bedrock of all talents and skills.

Advertising

What are Interpersonal Skills?

Interpersonal skills range from emotional intelligence, empathy, oral and written communication to leadership to collaboration and teamwork.

In sum, interpersonal skills are skills that enable you to interact well with others. They include teachability and receptiveness to feedback, active or mindful listening, self-confidence and conflict resolution.

From a communications standpoint, interpersonal skills are about understanding how colleagues prefer to communicate and then using the appropriate mediums to meet respective needs. It is about understanding how to communicate in a way to get the most out of different people.

For instance, in my career as a public relations practitioner, part of what I am constantly evaluating is which colleagues, clients and members of the media prefer email, text or phone calls. I am assessing how much frill to use with each person depending on what has worked in the past and depending on what I know about the person with whom I am interacting.

Making these decisions and being disciplined enough to follow each person’s known preferences helps me better connect with the various individuals in my orbit. Is this tiring at times? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely.

How to Improve Interpersonal Skills

There are tons of resources to teach interpersonal skills. I love books such as Leadership Presence by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, and The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

There are also a host of books and articles on emotional intelligence, which is the ability to manage one’s emotions and perceive and adapt to others’ emotions. Emotional intelligence is likewise a critical component of positive interpersonal relations. You can learn more about it in this article: What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why It Is Important

Advertising

Active and mindful listening also support improved interpersonal skills. I recommend you take a look at this piece: Active Listening – A Skill That Everyone Should Master

I have further found that humility helps a ton with interpersonal skills. It takes humility to admit you have more to learn and that you can learn from the people around you. In fact, everyone with whom you interact has a lesson to teach you. And employers are increasingly looking for team members who are lifelong learners, meaning they believe there is always room for growth and professional and personal development.

Forbes contributor Kevin H. Johnson noted in a July 2018 article,

“That’s why, when anyone asks what the next ‘hot’ skill will be, I say it’s the same skill that will serve people today, tomorrow, and far into the future—the ability to learn.”

Don’t overlook introspection.

While interpersonal skills may seem simple enough, introspection is critical to learning where and in what ways you need to grow.

Through introspection and observation, I have learned that my interpersonal skills suffer when I am sleep deprived, because then I am short-tempered and irritable. I’ve observed this connection over a significant period in my life. Unsurprisingly, it is also true of others. Fellow LifeHack contributor, health coach and personal trainer Jamie Logie noted:

Advertising

When you are chronically sleep deprived, it really does a number on you. A lack of sleep can keep your body in a constant state of stress and over time this can get pretty ugly. Elevated stress hormones can be involved in creating a bunch of pretty nasty conditions including anxiety, headaches and dizziness, weight gain, depression, stroke, hypertension, digestive disorders, immune system dysfunction, irritability.

Additionally, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reported,

“Sleep deprivation can noticeably affect people’s performance, including their ability to think clearly, react quickly, and form memories. Sleep deprivation also affects mood, leading to irritability; problems with relationships, especially for children and teenagers; and depression. Sleep deprivation can also increase anxiety.”

The point is, even as you are identifying ways to improve interpersonal skills, think about what is getting in the way. While sleep deprivation is a trigger for me, your stumbling block may be different.

The Bottom Line

You cannot fix what you do not know is broken. Even as you work to understand and apply interpersonal skills, spend some time in mindful meditation to get clear on what is holding you back from developing solid relationships.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

Read Next