Sometimes it just can’t be avoided. For most managers and supervisors, leveling constructive criticism goes with the territory, and unless the empathy meter is pushing empty, it isn’t something most look forward to. However, criticism needn’t leave the recipient permanently scarred and you emotionally disturbed.
So put down your scalpel and cat-o’-nine tails, here’s our top 10 list of ways to criticize effectively, and hopefully, more humanely.
1. Criticize behavior. Focus your criticism on the behavior you want changed, not the person. The discussion will seem less threatening, and you’ll likely avoid a defensive reaction.
2. Make criticism specific. Don’t use sweeping generalities: “you always...” or “you never...” Instead, critique specific behavior, acts or incidents.
3. Be realistic. Be sure the behavior you’re criticizing can be changed. A person’s looks, mannerisms or personality traits often fall outside of what can be modified readily.
4. Avoid accusations. Accusations are seldom more than thinly veiled threats. Use statements instead that reenforce the message that you want to work with the person to resolve the issue at hand.
5. Cool off. Let your emotions simmer down before meeting with the person in question. Especially if the criticism needs to be written, anger or sarcasm will only serve to undermine your objectives.
6. Be empathetic. Everyone has felt the sting of criticism, so don’t hesitate to show the recipient of your criticism that you do understand his or her feelings.
7. Lay a cushion. Start the meeting off by saying something positive about the person’s performance or abilities. Aside from cushioning the criticism, it helps set a positive, constructive tone.
8. Seek understanding. Make sure the person understands the basis for your criticism. Let there be no misunderstandings or misconstruing exactly what you are saying.
9. Get to the point. Don’t belabor the issue. State your case as clearly and succinctly as possible, discuss with the person on how he or she can resolve the problem and look to conclude the meeting.
10. Close strong. At the end, reaffirm your support and confidence in the person. Help the individual leave with his or her self-esteem reasonably intact.