"Critical Care"  
10/31/2006 2:27:57 PM

By Cynthia M Piccolo

The best – and easiest – way to deliver criticism.

There are certain truths in the world:

  • nobody's perfect;

  • nobody likes being criticized;

  • with the exception of one or two people, no one likes giving criticism to the person who needs it (though most people love criticizing people behind their backs);

  • everyone in a management, supervisory, or charge role will have to give criticism at some time.

    All these things considered, here are some tips to help the medicine go down easier – for you, and for the person who will be on the receiving end of your criticism.

  • Speak up as close as possible to the incident. Don't put it off. This way, your memory will be fresh and accurate, as will the offender's.

  • Help the person save face. Don't speak to the employee in front of her coworkers, speak to her privately.

  • Avoid going in with a "divide and conquer" approach and don't play favorites. If two team members were at fault, address them together.

  • Make sure that you are clear about exactly what happened, what the problem is, and what you want to say. To use a cliché, don't beat around the bush – have facts and be specific. If it helps, write down what you want to say.

  • Avoid speaking in extremes, e.g. "You always …" Be specific, e.g. "This morning, when you were working, I saw..."

  • If you share any responsibility for what happened, say so! This helps criticism go down better.

  • Remember to address what the person does well in the discussion. Don't make the meeting a long dialogue about his many flaws. This will just offend or depress the person, or cause him to cease listening because it will likely be perceived as a personal attack.

  • On that note: Don't be personal. It's about a problem in the employee's work or behavior, not a problem with her.

  • Let the person tell his side of the story. You may not have all the complete facts. If you find out you're wrong, apologize.

  • Let the person vent. Be prepared for the possibility of strong emotion. She might become angry or defensive. She might also be upset and cry. But don't let her lie. Also, don't let her emotion make you angry or defensive, or let it distract you from the objective of improving performance.

  • Focus the dialogue towards improving the person's work or behavior. You can give advice – especially if you once had a similar problem and found a good way to deal with it. However, encourage him to come up with the solutions rather than you providing them.

  • Do follow up to make sure that the solutions have been implemented.

  • Let it go. Don't brood on the confrontation, or the employee may feel that she has been branded as a problem, and you will have difficulty getting on with your own work – including delivering criticism to the next staff member who needs it.

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