Receiving criticism is never easy (although there are strategies for keeping your self-esteem intact). But giving criticism and – more specifically, giving constructive criticism that motivates real changes in behaviour can also be a challenge, especially when dealing with sensitive co-workers. Wondering how to give constructive criticism in a more positive manner? Here are 7 tips on how to give constructive criticism in a way that will inspire change.
1. Stop! Think about why you are giving criticism.
Criticism shouldn’t be a personal dig, a means to vent stress or an empty opportunity to exert some authority and boost your ego. Offering others constructive criticism is an opportunity to address a specific problem behaviour and collaborate to make a change. This is not about scolding or nagging, but about helping others to work more effectively.
2. Set new, positive goals rather than reprimand missed ones.
Research has shown that thinking in terms of future positive changes leads to greater task performance than when the focus is on negative past actions.
- Example of constructive criticism:
“In the future try to plan ahead, make a schedule to get things done in time.”
- Example of negative criticism:
“You have to stop leaving things until the deadline!”
The difference here, in organisational psychology terms, is the focus on competition versus threat. While a co-worker is likely to see the first example as a positive challenge or opportunity for self-improvement, the second is likely to be seen as a situational threat. In this instance, the emphasis is on failure and your co-worker is unlikely to make the effort to change, and performance will suffer.
3. Set goals that are specific and challenging.
Research suggests that specific and challenging (but achievable) goals lead to higher levels of task performance than general, easier goals. Moreover, attaining difficult goals is likely to lead to increased workplace satisfaction due to the fact that completing these tasks requires the person to grow and meet the challenges, encouraging feelings of personal success.
Setting a very specific deadline (i.e. “I will go for a thirty minute run on Thursday at 7 AM”) also increases the likelihood of goal fulfillment, as opposed to less specific goals (“I will go for a run this week”). Specificity is the first of five factors constituting the highly acclaimed S.M.A.R.T. model of goal setting. Although such approaches are not without controversy, accumulative evidence suggests that setting specific goals ensures that your discussion is not just talk, and that real change can be made.
4. Don’t make it personal.
When giving constructive criticism, separate their work from their personality, or at least give that impression in the way you phrase your discussion. The focus should be on the problem, not the person:
Negative criticism: “You’re disorganized.”
Constructive criticism: “You need to start keeping a schedule and incorporating a bit more structure to your work.”
The first example suggests their disorganization is an immutable trait. The second example, however, makes no assumptions about their personality traits, but provides positive strategies for change. Aim for the second example to encourage realistic change.
5. Think twice about giving prescriptive instruction
Just telling someone exactly what to do may not be the most effective approach to take. Sometimes, all someone needs is an outside perspective to flag where they have been going wrong. However, figuring out a solution may be best handled by them.
Goal achievement is more likely when the person sees the goal as important and of personal value. Try to phrase your suggestions in a way that frames personal goal-achievement
Constructive criticism: If you start doing X, you’re likely to meet your goals more effectively.
When providing constructive criticism, offer help, but recognize that it will be up to them to figure out a strategy that works for them. It may be best to think of your role as that of someone that provides them tools to solve their own problems.
6. Follow constructive criticism with feedback.
If you notice that they are beginning to turn things around, let them know that! This allows them to track their progress and gives them a positive incentive boost to continue to make an effort.
7. Don’t shy away from constructive criticism
Make sure you DO say something if someone is not pulling their weight. Don’t hold back just to spare their feelings. Accept that criticism and appraisals are a part of life- they have shaped the way you and your co-worker are today. How can they improve their performance if they aren’t receiving constructive feedback? Ultimately, it is in both of your interests to make it happen.
Other things to consider:
- When giving constructive criticism, make it a discussion, not a one-sided rant.
- Keep your tone of voice neutral and factual in order to give the impression that your message is well-reasoned and fair. Take care to not come off as patronizing.
- Constructive criticism is likely to be most effective coming from a trusted source. Ensure you lead by example and strive for a personal connection with your co-workers
- Consider the time and place. Don’t deliver such feedback in a group space. Remember – the purpose of constructive criticism is not to engender feelings of shame or disgrace, but to encourage change!
- Ensure the feedback message is clear by focusing on one area of change.