There are secrets of ‘positive criticism’
Ineffective criticism: “You need to be more of a team player. If you don’t, your future at XYZ Widgets Happiness.com is uncertain.” Good criticism: “Although it’s difficult working under tense deadlines, we must work closely together so we can achieve what we’ve all worked so hard for.”
Even in the sloppiest-managed companies, bosses have had to deliver criticism. And, they always will. Regardless of the industry or size of a company, bosses must deliver constructive criticism.
It’s particularly important for new managers. You don’t need an MBA to know that if you criticize a valuable employee badly, there’s a good chance this person will be working for your competitor next month.
To avoid a confrontation, you must create a “dynamic of cooperation that doesn’t threaten an employee’s self-esteem,” according to
Hendrie Weisinger, author of The Power of Positive Criticism.
The goal of criticism in companies, especially where the chain of command is fuzzy, is to get the other person to cooperate without arguments and threatening language.
Weisinger offers four tips for delivering positive criticism:
1. Create a perception of a common goal. Create the perception you have common ground and are moving in the same direction, thus minimizing the chance of an argument. Instead of saying, “If you don’t move on these statistics, I won’t be able to finish the report on time,” try saying, “We can get the report done quickly if you firm up the statistical data while I edit the text.”
2. Show how the person’s performance affects both of you. Example: instead of, “You’re never on time and it makes me look like a fool,” try explaining, “It’s important for both of us to be at the sales meeting on time. If one of us is late, it creates a bad impression and we both suffer.” The side benefit of this tactic is you’re illustrating how the other person will profit from the criticism.
3. Blame is unproductive. Agree with what an employee is doing by shifting blame to someone more significant, i.e., an important client or investor. Example: instead of, “This is terrible, you must rewrite this report or else it will be rejected by the director,” try coaching by saying, “I agree with your approach, but the reality is the director will see things differently. You know how difficult they can be.” Underlying this strategy is the unproductive aspect of expressing blame.
4. Ask permission to criticize. Instead of telling the other person what to do, ask permission. Instead of, “This report is too long, it must be rewritten,” try, “May I make a suggestion? I can show you an easier way to do that.” This is an effective way to overcome the barrier of “Don’t tell me what to do.” As soon as the other person agrees to accept help, they will be receptive to criticism.
It’s good to create the perception you have common ground and are moving in the same direction, thus minimizing the chance of an argument.