"Criticism …fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things, " said Sir Winston Churchill, former prime minister of Great Britain. While most people appreciate that philosophy intellectually, they often still find it difficult to give or receive criticism on an emotional level. Handling criticism in a calm, professional manner allows you to maintain an open and positive relationship when the discussion ends.
Develop a culture of support, so that employees know you value them and their contributions. When they hear compliments on a regular basis, they are less likely to become defensive when corrected.
Practice the "praise in public, correct in private" style of criticism. When you correct employees in front of colleagues or customers, the humiliation acts as a barrier that can prevent your message from being received.
Fit negative feedback between compliments, like a sandwich. Begin the discussion by pointing out what you liked about the work and then follow with the negative comments. End the discussion by reinforcing the positive ideas. For example, you might say, "I really like the research you've done for this report and the time you spent to find the details. There are some problems with spelling and grammar that we need to fix, however." Later, you could add, "You really showed a flair for in-depth reporting on this project. I'm looking forward to seeing what you do next."
Clarify your intentions before addressing the problem. In fact, you should examine your motivations to make sure that you aren't acting out of competiveness or personal interests.
Ask open-ended questions to include the employee in finding solutions to the problem. Ask what else the employee can do or use "what if" scenarios to lead the conversation.
Use "I" statements to communicate your own perceptions and feelings, while considering the perspective of the employee. Say, "I sense that you may be confused," rather than "You don't seem to understand the project expectations."
Discuss only the behaviors you want to change, without attacking the individual or his character.
Focus on a single behavior at a time, so that your employee doesn't feel inept or overwhelmed, which can lead to defensiveness and resentment.
Address the changes specifically. "You need to do a better job" isn't helpful to the employee in meeting your expectation, while "I'd like you to use a grammar and spelling check software on your next report" tells the employee exactly how to proceed.
Time your criticism so that the employee receives the feedback immediately before he repeats the tasks involved. This way, the correction seems like supportive advice rather than disapproving censure.
- A two-way discussion generally produces more positive results, so allow the employee to offer her criticism, as well.
- Avoid provocative words and phrases, like "You always" or "You never," so that communication continues to flow. Don't compare the employee to colleagues, any more than you would compare siblings to one another.
Pamela Martin has been writing since 1979. She has written newsletter articles and curricula-related materials. She also writes about teaching and crafts. Martin was an American Society of Newspaper Editors High School Journalism Fellow. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Teaching in elementary education from Sam Houston State University and a Master of Arts in curriculum/instruction from the University of Missouri.