Guest Post by Kelly Gregorio
No leader can deny the wonderful feeling of being well-liked by his or her team. You work hard to create harmony in the workplace, and your efforts are paid back in a loyal and engaged staff.
Unfortunately, there are times when, as a leader, you have to play some unfavorable roles; specifically, when it is your job to deliver criticism.
Luckily, with some tweaks to perception and practice you can get through this difficult part of the job and still have people liking you in the end.
Nothing Should Come as a Surprise
Effective leaders are proactive leaders, which means if you’re doing things right, your criticisms should not come as a shock. Employees are better served when leaders keep an active conversation going about strengths and potential pitfalls.
When the time comes that you do need to have a formal sit-down about an issue, your employee’s nerves and anxiety are likely to be on high alert. Being able to truthfully say, “We’ve talked about this before” will be helpful towards your effort of finally breaking through.
The Best Offense is Not Having a Defense
Spare your employee any unnecessary embarrassment and have your talk somewhere private, preferably off-site. Do your best to focus only on the facts and shy away from emotions. Calm the situation by using inclusive verbiage like “we” instead of “you” wherever appropriate.
For the compassionate leader, opening up and sharing your own past struggles and flaws could be soothing. Above all, if you still see promise in your employee, emphasize your desire to strengthen his/her potential and make it clear that you want to make this work “as a team.”
Serve Up a Sandwich
Criticism is best served in a sandwich. The actual criticism should always be poised as constructive and sandwiched between two compliments.
For example: “Jane, let me start out by saying how impressed I am by your ability to accomplish W; I really value you as a member of our team. However, my hope is that we can figure out a way to improve your X because I think it will better serve the group’s efforts for Y. I’m sure with your strong Z skills, we will be able to make this work. What do you think?”
Follow Up and Require Respect
Note that at the end of your criticism you positioned a question back to your employee. Language like this will keep delivering criticism a natural conversation and will open the floor for ways to reach a solution together.
Be sure to brainstorm possible steps toward improvement and set measurable benchmarks to help motivate and track your employee’s progress. Following up is equally important to establishing new goals. You’ll want to serve as a mentor for your evolving employee, offering support, recognition and feedback all the way through.
Keep in mind that people not liking you will not break you. If, after everything and despite your efforts, you still loose a peer in the cheering section, that’s OK.
Ultimately the only thing that matters is respect – respect for your delegations, the business environment and the work at hand. Yes, it would be great if we could all be friends, but more important is making the effort to enhance an employee’s performance and doing the job you’ve set out to do.
What other tactics can help leaders deliver criticism?
Kelly Gregorio writes about topics that affect small businesses and entrepreneurs while working at Advantage Capital Funds, a merchant cash advance provider. You can read her daily business blog here.
Join the Conversation
How to Deliver Criticism Without Losing Fans
Thank you for the post.
Here are 3 more
ways to deliver criticism.
From part 4 in Dale Carnegie’s
How To Win Friends and
Be A Leader…How to Change
People Without Giving Offense
or Arousing Resentment.
Begin with praise and honest
Call attention to people’s mistakes
Talk about your own mistakes before
criticizing the other person.
There are great examples of these
principles in the book…Abraham
Lincoln writing to General Hooker
for some grave mistakes he
made is extremely skillful and
Thanks again Kelly…
Great principles to embrace, Garren. Thanks for sharing them! Jon
My pleasure John…gotta pass on things of value. Wishing you a wonderful day.
Hiten and Alice,
Thank you both for reading and for your valuable input! I think you are both on the right track by defining the behavior (not the person) as the issue AND by understanding that criticism can not be a one-size-fits-all approach.
By being personable and by customizing criticism to the personality at hand I think you have a better chance of getting your point across, don’t you? It seems like the only way to make a genuine, lasting change is to connect with the person whose behavior you are criticizing and be genuine yourself….thanks again to both of you for sharing your thoughts.
To all the readers out there- lets keep the criticism conversation going! I wonder if anyone would be willing to share a leadership-criticism gone wrong….let’s talk about it!
Kelly, important message and advice you offered in this post. I’ve found that it’s helpful to tailor constructive criticism to the temperament of the receiver. To my rational thinkers who value competence, I’d use a variation of your sandwich strategy to talk about how they could be even more competent and effective. To my feelers, I’d be careful to load on the praise and be sure to let them know that the suggestion I have for them is not a reflection of who they are and how likeable they are. Delivering criticism can’t be a one-size-fits-all proposition. The better we know our team as individuals, the more effective we can be as leaders to help them be their best–whatever that looks and feels like to them. Thank you again for sharing this great post.
This was a fantastic guest post and Jon, thanks for connecting us with Kelly!
Kelly, I really appreciated the topic of your post, as giving criticism can be difficult to give, even for senior people within an organisation, like you explained in your post.
The ‘sandwich’ example you gave of giving criticism is the best I’ve ever seen so thank you for sharing this. I’ll be using this one.
I would like to add one point, which you covered in your own words, which is to be very behaviour specific when giving criticism, and emphasis to the person that the feedback is only on behaviour and not the person.
Hi Kelly. Great points! I especially like your encouragement about not being defensive and creating an open and safe environment for the discussion.
I would offer a word of caution about using the “sandwich” approach. When leaders overuse this approach they run the risk of…a) the words of praise becoming nothing more that platitudes and bookends for the criticism in the middle, or….b) watering down the impact of the message they’re trying to deliver.
I’ve learned that people need, and deserve, candor with care….candid feedback delivered in a caring and affirming manner.
I look forward to more of your posts!
Hi Randy, thanks so much for reading and for your encouraging words! I think you make a good “caution” point pertaining to the sandwich approach—positive words definitely can’t be used as bookends. Instead I think the initial compliment can open peoples ears and lower initial defenses, then comes the solid criticism, following with positive words of encouragement to improve.
What I think is even more important is the follow up talk after the “sandwich” which gives leaders a chance to confirm that their point has gotten across and opens the floor to clear up any confusion or misconceptions Thanks again for commenting!