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8 Ways to Use Criticism to Inspire Your Employee

There’s an art to respectfully guiding employees with directness, honesty and dignity. When done the right way, criticism can actually strengthen the relationship you share with your staff and generate positive results.

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BY Diane Gottsman - 10 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Any role involving the supervision of others requires ongoing feedback. Providing positive commentary gets tougher when it comes to pointing out particular areas which need improvement.

When critiquing an employee's performance, keep in mind no professional wants to face a negative reaction to their job performance, but it's an important conversation; identifying and addressing weaknesses helps people learn and grow in their work.

There's an art to respectfully guiding employees with directness, honesty and dignity. When done the right way, criticism can actually strengthen the relationship you share with your staff and generate positive results. Here are eight steps for effectively delivering constructive criticism.

Make Communication a Habit

Feedback isn't only for annual performance reviews. Don't let your only interaction with an employee occur when something is wrong. Establish a schedule for a regular pattern of communication, even if it's just a note on your calendar as a reminder to routinely touch base with each employee. Hearing positive feedback when warranted will lessen the blow when a negative critique is necessary.

Focus on Growth

Strong leaders see their role as a coach and mentor. As supervisors, this means providing pointers to help others learn and grow in their careers. Create an environment where continued training and improvement are core values. When employees feel like you have their best interest at heart, they will be more receptive to your feedback and evaluations.

Balance Criticism With Positive Reinforcement

Starting off with a criticism will trigger a negative response and shut down the conversation. Make sure to convey your confidence in their overall work. Before pointing out a mistake, let your employee know you value them and appreciate their contributions.

Be Specific

Avoid giving vague, ambiguous or generalized advice. Detailed commentary helps people understand how they can do better. For example, instead of telling someone their presentation "needs work," give them specific suggestions for improving their delivery. Make a point of scheduling a follow-up conversation to discuss their progress. Offering as many details as possible helps your employee understand where they need to improve.

Avoid Finger-Pointing

To avoid the feeling of being criticized, focus on the behavior or the situation, instead of the individual. Rather than saying, "You always turn your expense reports in late," which will immediately put the employee on the defensive, focus on the facts. "Your expense reports need to be turned in within three business days. Otherwise, clients aren't billed on time, and it creates extra work for the accounting department. Please make sure they're on time."

Be Discreet

No one wants to be called out in front of others. Constructive criticism should be given in a private setting, not in the hallway where others can easily overhear your conversation. Timing is important. If you have a serious matter to address or you suspect the employee may not take it well, ask to meet at the end of the day. If it's a staff member with direct contact with clients, don't schedule a potentially upsetting conversation directly before an important meeting.

Listen

Aim for dialogue instead of a one-way monologue of instructions. Ask questions to get a better feel for why something is not going well and give employees an opportunity to voice their feelings and concerns. Ask for their suggestions on how you can help improve the situation.

Follow Up

Give your staff member time to correct the course. If there has been a noticeable improvement, acknowledge it. If, after a certain amount of time, the situation has not improved, determine the next step. Putting the right person in the position is an important part of the equation. If you expect an employee to be a great accountant, with little or no skill, the outcome will be bleak. An honest assessment will determine if your employee is the right fit or if it's time to look elsewhere for additional help or another alternative.