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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 September 18, 2020

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

For the original article by Celestine: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

“We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

Have you ever experienced moments when things just don’t go your way? For example, losing your keys, accidentally spilling your drink, waking up late, missing your buses/trains, forgetting to bring your things, and so on?

You’re not alone. All of us, myself included, experience times when things don’t go as we expect.

Here is my guide on how to deal with daily setbacks.

1. Take a step back and evaluate

When something bad happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Are you the only person facing this problem in the world today?
  3. How does this problem look like at an individual level? A national level? On a global scale?
  4. What’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you as a result of this?
  5. How is it going to impact your life in the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

Doing this exercise is not to undermine the problem or disclaiming responsibility, but to consider different perspectives, so you can adopt the best approach for it. Most problems we encounter daily may seem like huge issues when they crop up, but most, if not all, don’t have much impact in our life beyond that day.

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2. Vent if you have to, but don’t linger on the problem

If you feel very frustrated and need to let off some steam, go ahead and do that. Talk to a friend, complain, crib about it, or scream at the top of your lungs if it makes you happy.

At the same time, don’t get caught up with venting. While venting may temporarily relieve yourself, it’s not going to solve the problem ultimately. You don’t want to be an energy vampire.

Vent if there’s a need to, but do it for 15 to 20 minutes. Then move on.

3. Realize there are others out there facing this too

Even though the situation may be frustrating, you’re not alone. Remember there are almost 7 billion people in the world today, and chances are that other people have faced the same thing before too. Knowing it’s not just you helps you to get out of a self-victimizing mindset.

4. Process your thoughts/emotions

Process your thoughts/emotions with any of the four methods:

  1. Journal. Write your unhappiness in a private diary or in your blog. It doesn’t have to be formal at all – it can be a brain dump on rough paper or new word document. Delete after you are done.
  2. Audio taping. Record yourself as you talk out what’s on your mind. Tools include tape recorder, your PC (Audacity is a freeware for recording/editing audio) and your mobile (most mobiles today have audio recording functions). You can even use your voice mail for this. Just talking helps you to gain awareness of your emotions. After recording, play back and listen to what you said. You might find it quite revealing.
  3. Meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is just sitting/lying still and observing your reality as it is – including your thoughts and emotions. Some think that it involves some complex mambo-jumbo, but it doesn’t.
  4. Talking to someone. Talking about it with someone helps you work through the issue. It also gets you an alternate viewpoint and consider it from a different angle.

5. Acknowledge your thoughts

Don’t resist your thoughts, but acknowledge them. This includes both positive and negative thoughts.

By acknowledging, I mean recognizing these thoughts exist. So if say, you have a thought that says, “Wow, I’m so stupid!”, acknowledge that. If you have a thought that says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again”, acknowledge that as well.

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Know that acknowledging the thoughts doesn’t mean you agree with them. It’s simply recognizing the existence of said thoughts so that you can stop resisting yourself and focus on the situation on hand.

6. Give yourself a break

If you’re very stressed out by the situation, and the problem is not time sensitive, then give yourself a break. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or get some sleep. When you’re done, you should feel a lot more revitalized to deal with the situation.

7. Uncover what you’re really upset about

A lot of times, the anger we feel isn’t about the world. You may start off feeling angry at someone or something, but at the depth of it, it’s anger toward yourself.

Uncover the root of your anger. I have written a five part anger management series on how to permanently overcome anger.

After that, ask yourself: How can you improve the situation? Go to Step #9, where you define your actionable steps. Our anger comes from not having control on the situation. Sitting there and feeling infuriated is not going to change the situation. The more action we take, the more we will regain control over the situation, the better we will feel.

8. See this as an obstacle to be overcome

As Helen Keller once said,

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Whatever you’re facing right now, see it as an obstacle to be overcome. In every worthy endeavor, there’ll always be countless obstacles that emerge along the way. These obstacles are what separate the people who make it, and those who don’t. If you’re able to push through and overcome them, you’ll emerge a stronger person than before. It’ll be harder for anything to get you down in the future.

9. Analyze the situation – Focus on actionable steps

In every setback, there are going to be things that can’t be reversed since they have already occurred. You want to focus on things that can still be changed (salvageable) vs. things that have already happened and can’t be changed. The only time the situation changes is when you take steps to improve it. Rather than cry over spilt milk, work through your situation:

  1. What’s the situation?
  2. What’s stressing you about this situation?
  3. What are the next steps that’ll help you resolve them?
  4. Take action on your next steps!

After you have identified your next steps, act on them. The key here is to focus on the actionable steps, not the inactionable steps. It’s about regaining control over the situation through direct action.

10. Identify how it occurred (so it won’t occur again next time)

A lot of times we react to our problems. The problem occurs, and we try to make the best out of what has happened within the context. While developing a healthy coping mechanism is important (which is what the other helping points are on), it’s also equally important, if not more, to understand how the problem arose. This way, you can work on preventing it from taking place next time, vs. dealing reactively with it.

Most of us probably think the problem is outside of our control, but reality is most of the times it’s fully preventable. It’s just a matter of how much responsibility you take over the problem.

For example, for someone who can’t get a cab for work in the morning, he/she may see the problem as a lack of cabs in the country, or bad luck. However, if you trace to the root of the problem, it’s probably more to do with (a) Having unrealistic expectations of the length of time to get a cab. He/she should budget more time for waiting for a cab next time. (b) Oversleeping, because he/she was too tired from working late the previous day. He/she should allocate enough time for rest next time. He/she should also pick up better time management skills, so as to finish work in lesser time.

11. Realize the situation can be a lot worse

No matter how bad the situation is, it can always be much worse. A plus point vs. negative point analysis will help you realize that.

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12. Do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it

No matter how bad your situation may seem, do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it. Life is too beautiful to worry so much over daily issues. Take a step back (#1), give yourself a break if you need to (#6), and do what you can within your means (#9). Everything else will unfold accordingly. Worrying too much about the outcome isn’t going to change things or make your life any better.

13. Pick out the learning points from the encounter

There’s something to learn from every encounter. What have you learned from this situation? What lessons have you taken away?

After you identify your learning points, think about how you’re going to apply them moving forward. With this, you’ve clearly gained something from this encounter. You’ve walked away a stronger, wiser, better person, with more life lessons to draw from in the future.

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Featured photo credit: Alice Donovan Rouse via unsplash.com

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