The Fine Art of Constructive Criticism in the Workplace

The Fine Art of Constructive Criticism in the Workplace on

When you’re expanding your business, there will be lots of growing pains along the way. Diplomacy is a key factor in a successful team-management strategy.

It’s never fun delivering criticism to your employees. But there are many times when it’s a necessary part of running a business. Entrepreneurs and business owners must harness the art of constructive criticism to manage a successful team. This means you’re not being aggressive, condescending, or controlling when offering guidance and feedback to employees.

These strategies will help you approach the team with diplomacy and a level head while getting the right points across.

Be straightforward

All too often, managers beat around the bush with passive-aggressive communication tactics. It’s much more useful to everyone involved when you can communicate a constructive criticism in a detailed, straightforward fashion. This way, the employee doesn’t leave the conversation confused about what they’re supposed to change or what you think of their performance. It also means you should talk about the specific ways the behavior can be reversed, making your expectations for the next steps clear.

Try asking questions to make sure they fully understand the review, especially if the issue is something that they weren’t aware of before you talked.

Be conversational

Being straightforward and honest doesn’t mean you have to be belittling or even stern. Show employees that you’re going to hold them accountable while approaching the conversation with a positive attitude. Depending on the issue at hand, try being more conversational instead of setting up a very serious discussion (unless the problem is, of course, very serious).

Relay positives first

It’s always a good idea to start a feedback conversation with the positives. This lets the employee know that you appreciate their work and that they are bringing a lot of value to the workplace and company. Then, get into the things that could have been done better.

Even if the meeting is solely to address the criticism, it’s still a good idea to start out positive. Otherwise, the employee may feel attacked and less motivated to improve.

Give feedback in private

Never embarrass employees when providing constructive criticism. Avoid giving any negative feedback in front of other team members, unless the comment is meant for the team as a whole. Your point will be missed when you embarrass someone, leaving them feeling resentful, angry, and ashamed.

Constructive criticism means you’re delivering your message in a positive way that will actually help the team member improve and do things differently next time. Meet privately, so you both feel more comfortable sharing how you really feel.

Focus on the facts and the issue at hand

Make your constructive criticism applicable to the individual, without it being about the individual personally. Why is this task or behavior important for this employee’s specific job duties or even career goals? What role does this person play at the company that you can relate to the criticism? Stick to the facts about the problem.

Focus on the issue at hand, and not the employee’s personality traits or habits. Make it about the business and the person’s professional performance, instead of calling out someone’s personal shortcomings.

Avoid punishments

We’re all adults. Unless something majorly inappropriate has happened, avoid punishing employees when they make a mistake. Often, constructive criticism will address a problem that the worker doesn’t even know exists, so it’s unlikely to be a recurring problem. Unless an employee has overstepped again and again or clearly had questionable motives, treat your team members like capable adults.

Be willing to keep the discussion going

Some employees won’t take criticism well. It’s just part of having a team of diverse individuals with different professional priorities. If you sense that a conversation is going down a negative or hostile path, or you can tell that the person is becoming upset or uncomfortable, table the discussion—for now. Check back in when the dust has settled to assess questions or concerns or finish the conversation you started.

Don’t continue to push employees until they become angry or frustrated with the conversation. Doing so will make the criticism much less effective.

When you need help aligning your team with your vision or creating a successful business model, get in contact with our team at Provident CPA & Business Advisors. We use the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) model to help you work through the six key components of any business: vision, people, data, issues, processes, and traction. We also help with growth and profit-improvement strategies designed to enable long-term business success.