November 4, 2015 | Barb Carr

Career Development: When Should You Provide Constructive Criticism at Work?

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Constructive criticism can be appreciated and well-received with the right approach.

Constructive criticism is important to performance improvement, and the ability to provide constructive criticism effectively is a true leadership skill. This doesn’t mean we should be evaluating our co-workers all the time so we can give them our opinions on how they can do things better, but there are clues as to when feedback is needed and may be appreciated.

If you’ve always wondered whether the door is open or closed to provide feedback, see if it the situation falls into one of these scenarios:

Someone has asked you for your opinion.

There is an ongoing problem that will not be resolved without helpful feedback.

A co-worker’s error continues to repeat itself.

A co-workers habit is affecting your job performance negatively.

All of the above are signals that the time may be right but don’t approach your co-worker just yet! Here are 5 questions to ask yourself before you provide criticism:  

1. Is my intention to be helpful?  Evaluate why you feel like you want to provide feedback.  If it is intended to improve the performance of one of your employees, proceed to the next question.  If it is intended for a peer, there are many things you want to say that are true, but not helpful.  Unless you feel that your feedback will help them reach a goal more easily, improve the way they perform a task to their benefit, or help them understand how their performance is negatively affecting you, keep it to yourself.  

2. Am I the best person to provide the feedback? Consider your history with the other person. They may be more receptive if someone else told them.  Even so, some people do not like criticism of any kind. Be prepared for a negative response.

3. Can I be specific?  It doesn’t help to say, “Wow, you dropped the ball here.”  Specific feedback is constructive feedback.  Are you prepared to discuss where you feel the performance can be improved, and how they can accomplish that?  Otherwise, it’s just criticism.  For example, telling someone they’re lazy is received as an insult. Telling them they are not getting you the data you need to prepare your reports on time addresses the behavior.

4. Am I being sensitive in my approach?   It’s better to give constructive feedback in private.  Be sensitive to minimizing embarrassment the other person may feel. Focus on describing the behavior instead of judging it as good or bad.  Also know when to stop. Pay attention to their reaction.  You can revisit the issue later if they look uncomfortable.

5. Are my emotions under control? If someone dropped the ball or made a mistake, you might have a good reason to feel upset, but your criticism will have a tone of accusation and that will make the other person defensive. Stay calm and give the feedback in a fair and balanced way. Watch your body language.  Avoid inferences – there is something about the person’s behavior that you saw or heard that bothers you but your interpretation of it may be incorrect.  Give the other person a chance to tell you what his or her behavior means.

If you can answer yes to the questions above then you are ready to approach someone with your constructive criticism.  The best way to approach someone is stating your intent so it’s clear from the start.  Some non-threatening lead-ins are:

I have some ideas about  …

I’m concerned about …

Can I share an observation …

Do you have a minute to talk about …

Constructive feedback can be a gift to someone when delivered properly.  Don’t be reluctant to help someone be the best that they can be.  You may be giving them the advice that changes their lives!

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