How to Deliver Constructive Criticism

Regardless of your position, or the industry in which you work, you will most likely need to deliver criticism to a co-worker at some stage in your career. Nobody enjoys this responsibility, but there are several steps that you can take to make sure everyone achieves the best possible outcome while maintaining a positive workplace dynamic.

Step One: Identify the Problem

There can be many factors at play when you first realise that someone might be doing something wrong. Allow yourself time to make sure that you have your facts straight, and that personal feelings aren't coming into play before proceeding. When appropriate it might help to speak with someone else in a management position who can be objective and give you advice about how to approach the issue.

Step Two: Choose Your Timing

Timing can play a large role in ensuring your criticism is well received, and able to be acted upon. If you need to speak with someone about a single incident, make sure you allow time for the person to compose themselves, then try to have the discussion as soon as possible. If your issue is an ongoing one, schedule a meeting ahead of time so that it doesn't feel like an ambush.

Step Three: Focus on the Issue

Make sure that the heavier part of the discussion is centered around the incident or behaviour in question. The key to delivering constructive criticism is that the person does not feel attacked, and instead comes out of the experience knowing what areas they need to work on, rather than feeling like a failure.

Step Four: Encourage Discussion

If the interaction is one-sided then the other person may shut down, or become defensive. Offering them the chance to give their side of the story can give you insight into why the problem has occurred, and might even change the way you approach the issue from now on. Provide reassurance that the rest of their performance is not in question, talk about what they do well, and maintain a tone that is professional and conversational.

Step Five: Offer Solutions

If you are coming to someone with a problem, then you need to be prepared to let them know how you think they can make things better. If they have ideas, you can discuss them together, but it is important to give guidance and to make your expectations clear. Express your confidence in the solutions offered, and in the person's abilities to turn things around.

Step Six: Provide Support

Set a time frame in which you want the issue to be rectified, and follow up when appropriate to show that you care about their progress. When someone's performance is questioned it can have an impact on their confidence levels, so a little bit of support and positive feedback in the weeks after a difficult discussion can go a long way. Tell them you are impressed with the efforts they have made to make changes, or offer further advice if they need it. The follow up can be just as important as the actual criticism so take advantage of this opportunity to make sure everyone involved feels positive about the process.

Why being a “born leader” is (mostly) rubbish

Noone is “born to be a leader”, they become leaders through training and experience.

While leadership fundamentals draw on some intuitive characteristics, many of the traits of a great leader can be acquired – you just have to believe in yourself first and foremost.

The more opportunities you have to serve in leadership positions, the more likely you are to develop the skills to lead. Volunteering for a leadership role is a great way to develop and sharpen your leadership skills. Look beyond the workplace for these positions by contacting community groups and professional associations.

A key role of a leader is to challenge the status quo by developing strategies to grow and enhance their organisation; yet many people in leadership positions struggle to implement and manage change.

John Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change is a great resource for learning the necessary skills to lead and manage change.

In his book, Leading Change, Kotter suggests the first step to implementing change is to create a sense of urgency to motivate the management team. The leader should then form a coalition of influencers within the organisation who are committed to the end goal of the change effort. Step three is to create a clear and compelling image of the change, while step four is to communicate the vision and the benefits it will bring. Other steps in Kotter’s strategy include removing obstaclescelebrating incremental changesbuilding on change and anchoring the changes in corporate culture. You can read more about Leading Change here.

As a final tip, effective leaders are constantly learning. We recommend that you devise a plan to improve your leadership skills, including formal study or training. 

Remember leadership is a characteristic that people aren’t born with – it needs to be learned and nourished.