How to Give Constructive Criticism

The primary goal in giving criticism is for the person to walk away feeling motivated and energized on a clear path to improvement and growth.

As a manager, a large part of your job is to improve every person’s morale and performance. This doesn’t mean that you can’t criticize, but you need to remember that criticism has to be within the framework of helping people grow and become better at what they do.

When an employee makes a mistake or does something that makes you or your group look bad, the first impulse is to dress them down and make them feel bad for their poor performance. This is almost never a good idea, even if you think the person is someone who should be fired or will eventually be. Your job is to help them improve.

Yelling at people and making them feel bad is counter-productive. As good as it might make you feel to exercise your power, ripping them to shreds will just make them walk on eggshells and hate work. If you make them feel poorly, you might see some short-term improvements (i.e. they won’t likely make that exact mistake again), but it will probably create a low-performing employee who has little to no motivation. You want someone willing to go the extra mile, not someone who is entirely risk averse.

As a good manager, your employees should feel safe. There is nothing wrong with setting a high bar and having (even incredibly) high standards. Help your team learn and grow, and when they do make mistakes lead them to success next time. Guide them. Show them, patiently. Then have them pass what they’ve learned on to others in order to cement these better practices and patterns.

Always be your people’s best advocate. Listen to why they messed up and help them overcome the issues that caused the problem. Serve as a coach and mentor, not a prosecutor and executioner. Think of every mistake as an opportunity to teach and make them excited to be growing. Never punish, chide, patronize, or be condescending. Always be positive, even in criticism. Sometimes it makes sense to hold off on delivering criticism for a little while in order to let your emotions cool before you confront the issue. You want to always be an unflappable and patient teacher.

Despite the need to remain positive and focus on growth, the ramifications of a mistake need to addressed at times. Honesty and candor are necessary, as sometimes mistakes can have a negative impact on an employee, like them not getting a bonus, raise, new responsibility, project, or promotion. Mistakes can even have consequences for you, your team, or even the company. Relish no joy in telling them if there are adverse effects of their error. Instead couch their mistake in terms of how they will do better next time.

Finally, always be positive. Always be their best advocate. Listen to them. Help them. Counsel them. Teach them. Find them help if you can’t teach them what they need to know yourself. Your role is to help them grow. Remember, you shine when they grow.

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