According to Greg Walker at the Department of Speech Communication in the Oregon State University, “Criticism or the generation of ‘evaluative judgments’, is often painful or difficult to ‘give’ or ‘receive'”. For some people, this would be like going to the dentist or walking towards their own execution. Even the knowledge that your work will be critiqued would have butterflies flying in your stomach like crazy.
But Walker added, “If handled appropriately by both the person criticized and the person being criticized, critical feedback can promote constructive growth in individuals and relationships.”
This makes constructive criticism vital in the workplace. The purpose of this type of critique is to help the recipient improve and ensure that the same mistake will not happen again. Think of it as imparting a lesson, rather than making someone feel down. If a negative approach is taken, the one being criticized would not only feel down, but would always associate a similar situation to something unpleasant. Here are some examples of constructive criticism in the workplace commonly experienced.
1. Provide Feedback Like a Coach.
The primary role of the coach is to assess or evaluate an individual’s performance, and then help them discover ways to make improvements. He does this by asking the right questions. The same approach can be used when giving constructive feedback in the workplace. What is great about using the coaching approach is that it helps foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust, which will lead to a productive and healthy relationship.
2. Give Feedback On Even The Slightest Improvements
A struggling employee will do something well at some point. You should take this as an opportunity to give praise and encourage an employee to continue doing an excellent performance. To turn praise into constructive criticism, feedback should be focused on one specific work only. One of the guidelines for giving constructive feedback is that criticism or praise should be focused on a particular situation and not a general behavior.
3. Use Encouragement Even When Dealing With Mistakes.
Consider this scenario: an employee hands in a report with some typos. Rather than handing it back, criticizing the errors and demanding to have them fixed, work on finding something positive about the situation. Recall a time when an employee was able to make corrections quickly and praise them for it. You should also mention that you are confident of their ability to fix the problem. Starting in a positive way, even under dire circumstances, almost always leads to a positive outcome.
4. Ask For Solutions
If all you do is to point out problems and errors, then you are giving an out-and-out criticism, which is unlikely to help the situation in any way. Not only will you make employees feel bad about themselves and their work, they would be de-motivated as well. So, for your feedback to be constructive, you can point out the problem, but ask for reasons why such issues arose. Then, ask employees if they have ideas for a better approach or effective solutions. It is important that you avoid imposing a solution. Instead, draw out great ideas but asking the right questions.
5. Seek Permission Before Offering a Feedback
Can I offer a feedback? Will that be OK? By asking this question, you help prepare an employee to hear and receive a constructed advice. This is also one way to soften the blow, so to speak. Knowing beforehand that they are receiving feedback rather than pure criticism will put an employee’s mind at ease, especially because they know that they’re not being reprimanded. Seeking permission also opens opportunities to receive input from the criticized.
Best Ways to Handle Constructive Criticism
So, for a feedback to be remotely constructive, it has to be a two way street. That is, the ‘critic’ and the ‘criticized’ must interact. The critic must also invite criticism of his own behavior, as this will create a situation where giving and receiving criticism is considered appropriate. It has to be delivered properly as well.
1. When criticizing over a particular situation, give concrete examples so that people would really grasp what you want to convey.
2. Give recipients an opportunity to tell their side of the story. Remember that it has to be a two-way conversation.
3. Tell them what you expect to happen in the future and why. Doing so will help the other person understand your perspective and see the bigger picture.
4. When discussing the situation, get input from the other party. Finding solutions are easier when ideas are being bounced off against one another.
Now, what is the difference between praise and constructive criticism? The former is what it is, but the latter is designed to encourage improvement of various aspects.
Praise: You are very well trained in managing a team.
Constructive Criticism: How about getting some training in team management?
Impact of Workplace Criticism
Even if your intentions are good, criticizing could still leave a negative impact, which is why you should do it right, as much as possible.
When criticizing a colleague, put yourself in their shoes or engage in role reversal. Whatever it is he doesn’t want to hear, would probably be the same thing with you.
When criticizing an employee, avoid bashing them, and then help them find a way to avoid further mistakes. If he has been rude to a client, for example, send guidelines about correct behavior that an employee can follow.
When criticizing the boss, always stay calm and objective. This is probably one of the most difficult situations any employee has to face. However, if the problem is caused by your boss, he has a right to know. To avoid being fired, explain the situation a matter-of-factly and offer a suggestion.
For a criticism to be constructive or helpful in any way, the one being criticized also has a role to play. He has to keep an open mind and see the value of such feedbacks. If he only views criticism in a negative light, no amount of constructive advice would be perceived in a positive way. He must also learn to listen effectively and work hard not to consider critiques as an attack on his character, causing him to become defensive.