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performance review, delivering feedback

How to deliver constructive criticism to employees without damaging relationships

A lot of people don’t take criticism well; more so when it is an employee taking criticism from a manager. Whether it’s constructive, or not, the overall situation of delivering criticism can be uncomfortable for both the receiver and the giver and sometimes managers choose not to give feedback just to avoid the uncomfortable situation. However, for a manager who is really interested in improving teams, there is no other way towards the right direction but to provide feedback. Unfortunately, not all feedback is positive.

There is a common saying that goes, “It is not about what you say, it is how you say it’. This statement is very true in relation to delivering criticism. How an employee receives criticism is often highly dependent on the tone and attitude of the critic. Knowing how important the relationships between management and employees are in developing a positive work culture, extreme care must be taken when delivering criticism not to damage healthy relationships. When delivered correctly, constructive criticism can help improve performance and build a trusting relationship between employees and their manager. On the other hand, when not delivered well, criticism can damage relationships and create a negative work environment. So, how can managers deliver constructive criticism without damaging relationships?

The ‘Feedback Sandwich’ method when providing feedback

One common and highly recommended method of delivering criticism is through the ‘feedback sandwich’. This is whereby feedback is broken down into three segments; positive comment, negative comment and positive comment. It is called the feedback sandwich as it packs criticism between two positive comments. The benefit of this method is that it recognises an employee’s positive impact in such a way that the criticism is delivered, but it does not feel as disapproving. Here is example of how you can deliver the sandwich feedback: “Your sales numbers were great. However, I noticed your expense account was too high and could be lower. All the same, this is a great sales record!” This sandwich acknowledges the high sales, highlights that the salesperson needs to watch their spending and ends with a positive note.

Self Critique

Another way to deliver criticism without making it feel subjective is through self-critique. As a manager, you should admit that you are not perfect and you make mistakes too, hence it is human error when others make mistakes. This is an approach highly encouraged by relationship expert Dale Carnegie in his book How to Win Friends and Influence people. Carnegie insists that when delivering criticism, it is important to show that mistakes can be made by anyone, including yourself and others in a related situation. This way, employees take this criticism as an honest correction as opposed to seeing it as an attack on them individually.

Give timely and specific criticism

As much as the feedback process can be uncomfortable and sometimes managers avoid it, criticism is more effective when delivered in a timely fashion. Managers should correct a situation as soon as it comes up, rather than letting issues build up, or depending on annual performance reviews to give any feedback. In addition, it is important that you are specific in your criticism as opposed to generalising the terms such that the critiqued is left wondering what they did wrong.  A specific criticism points out exactly what the issue is. For example, instead of saying “Your report was not good” you should be specific and say, “I noticed some typos on your report. Please ensure you proofread your reports before submitting”. The latter feedback gives the employee point of correction that they can work on.

There are many methods for delivering feedback and criticism to an employee, without damaging the relationship, and these three methods give you a good start in the right direction.

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