Delivering Constructive Criticism

By Robin Lines

A crucial skill that leaders must develop is giving constructive criticism. Your people are not making mistakes intentionally, but those mistakes can have significant long-term repercussions. Some leaders are too argumentative or critical of their people, which can create a climate of fear within the organisation, damaging trust and morale. Other leaders are themselves afraid of appearing too stern so hope for the best rather than intervening.

Constructive criticism need not be an awkward or unpleasant experience from either side of the table. With the right approach, it can help you develop a stronger working relationship based on trust and respect.

Get The Facts

The first step needs to be to identify what went wrong and why it went wrong. Too often, the blame is attributed to one person due to organisational failure. Procurement issues, miscommunications, poor delegation, resource distribution, etc. could all make mistakes more likely. Before you begin the process, you need to be clear on what exactly contributed to the problem.

Objectively Share Your Concern

It isn’t pleasant to be put on the spot so it during the early conversation, it is important to objectively share your concern. Do not criticise, act argumentative and try not to put the other side on the spot or blame them. Instead, leaders should state the facts as they understand them in a clear and calm manner.

Listen to Their Side

It is vital that you listen to what they have to say. Importantly, you should try and empathise with their position. They have not deliberately set out to make a mistake, or produce poor quality work. Allowing them to speak gives you the opportunity to better understand, and allows them to air any previously unknown frustrations or difficulties they may be experiencing.

Look for the Good

Constructive criticism is best handled with an appreciation and understanding of the good work they have done. Don’t be afraid to offer some praise for how they have handled their responsibilities, and try to look for the good. If people are shown appreciation, they will be more receptive and less defensive when we try to help them.

Offer or Invite a Solution

With both sides having made their point, you should invite the other person to think upon how they could have done better. At this stage, we should be hoping to engage in a dialogue between peers, rather than a boss giving orders to a subordinate. Help them brainstorm new ideas, discuss the practicalities of what they suggest and come to an agreement over the steps to move forward. By allowing them to take the lead in the solution-finding, you ensure they will have greater motivation to prove themselves.

Gain Commitment

Having discussed and agreed upon the solution now is the time to gain commitment. Ensure that the other side has bought-in to the proposed plan of action, and agree upon some measures to review and amend that plan going forward. Don’t put them under intense pressure to perform, but instead invite them to review the situation soon so that you can both continue to work together to make sure the solution sticks.

Robin Lines

Robin Lines

Professional Services Consultant

I'm a highly experienced, versatile and dynamic training facilitator and business coach, dedicated to assisting leaders in helping their people achieve their potential and realise goals. I also deliver a range of Consultative Selling and Key Account Management programmes, equipping salespeople with the skills, tools and methodologies to help them win and outsell their competition.


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