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10 Tips for Delivering (Constructive) Criticism
Giving staff the feedback that they need and want

by By Dr. Barton Goldsmith

First let me say that, with all the criticism I have received, rarely has it ever been constructive. These days when someone comes up to me after a presentation and says, "Would you like some constructive criticism?" I always say, "No thank you."

The problem with most people who give criticism is that they almost always feel they could do it better. This brings to mind the obvious question, which is - if they could do it better, then why aren't they doing it? As leaders, we are always targets for criticism and so be it; I think that's part of the deal. Where we fail is that we don't help our team members by training them how to deliver criticism or feedback in the best ways.

Here are some tips to help you give team members the feedback they need and want:
  1. Take an honest look at where you're coming from. If there's some anger or resentment toward the team member, then you're probably not the best person to offer them advice.

  2. Start and end with a compliment. Find something good to say about your team member, this will help him or her take in your advice. At the end of the conversation, it will help your team member to feel that they aren't a failure or that you're not angry.

  3. Listen to your own voice. The tone of your voice can communicate as much (if not more) than the words you choose. If there is an edge to your voice it will be harder for your team member to take in your request.

  4. Eye contact is important It helps both of you stay focused and it communicates sincerity. It will also help you stay on topic. If you're working on the computer or busy with something, stop what you're doing and look at the person you're speaking to.

  5. Choose the best time and place. Never give criticism in public, in front of another person, or when you or your team member may be too tired or hungry to deal with it appropriately. If you're physically uncomfortable you may not be in the best frame of mind to talk about a difficult subject.

  6. Do your best to avoid hurting your anyone's feelings. Use a softened start-up followed by a gentle suggestion. For example you could say, "I really like the way to talk to your supervisor, you would get a better response from your team members if you spoke to them in the same way.

  7. Talk about the behavior not the person. Feedback is not about insulting someone's behavior, it's about telling him or her how to be better. For example, you would never say to a child, "You are a mistake." Instead you would say, "You made a mistake."

  8. Use gentle humor if possible. If you can deliver criticism in a light-hearted manner, it will be received in a much more positive way. Humor doesn't diminish the seriousness of the feedback you are giving, it actually helps the person receiving the direction to open up and take it in.

  9. Work with your team member to improve the situation.This will help him or her to make the appropriate adjustments sooner rather than later. It will also strengthen your bond as a team. Making changes is easier if you have someone supporting you.

  10. Don't harp. Once you have asked for what you need from your team member, let it go. If you have to ask someone to do something four times, I can promise you that the person in question has heard what you have to say. If you've reached an agreement or agreed to disagree, let it go and move on, holding a grudge is a waste of time.
These are the tools the best of the best use to make their teams strong. Learning how to give feedback and criticism in a way that the person you are talking to will take it in and learn from it may be a leaders greatest tool for building an effective team.

So the next time you offer a team member constructive criticism they won't go running for cover or say, "No thank you." Instead they will see it as an opportunity to grow and your company will grow along with them.

About the Author:Barton Goldsmith is a speaker and business consultant, who presents to companies, associations, and leaders worldwide. He can be contacted through his web site at: or at (818) 879-9996.

First published on 9/24/04 - Reedited on 1/04/04

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