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Explore This IssueOctober 2015
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Telling an employee that they need to improve does not conjure up warm, fuzzy feelings. In fact, many employers dread it and may get gun shy. After all, an employee could take it the wrong way, and the constructive criticism could be ill received.
“This is a legitimate fear, because many people have given constructive criticism, only to have it backfire,” says Jennifer Selby Long, management consultant and executive coach, Selby Group, Oakland, Calif.
Fortunately, there are measures you can take to make offering constructive criticism less dreadful. Asking an employee to improve can be tough. Try these tips to increase the chances your request will be received well.
Keep It Private
Jonathan M. Greer, MD, FACR, FACP, president, Arthritis and Rheumatology Associates of Palm Beach, and affiliate clinical professor of medicine, Nova Southeastern University, Boynton Beach, Fla., advises speaking with the individual one on one.
“Do not do it in front of peers, which is embarrassing and can create anger,” Dr. Greer says. In addition, he says you should speak in a calm and deliberate manner.
Don’t Rush It
Rich Gallagher, LMFT, founder, Point of Contact Group, Ithaca, N.Y., and author of How to Tell Anyone Anything: Breakthrough Techniques for Handling Difficult Conversations at Work (AMACOM, 2009), points out that what you say in the first 30 seconds governs how successful the rest of the conversation will be. “Ask them how they are doing, and then neutrally observe a problem,” he says. “Do not shame them, challenge them or rush too quickly into problem solving.”
Throughout the conversation, strive to use strength-based communication. This is a criticism-free and blame-free approach that treats the other person as a partner in solving a problem, says Mr. Gallagher, who points out that criticism almost always channels the other person’s energy toward defending themselves instead of solving the problem.
Be sure to ask good questions to learn their side of the story. “Believe it or not, even excuses or finger pointing are seen as a good thing in strength-based communication, because they keep a safe conversation moving forward on topic,” Mr. Gallagher continues.
Most importantly, normalize and acknowledge what the other person is saying. “The key to strength-based communication is to frame the other person’s position as that of a totally reasonable person,” Mr. Gallagher says. “This feels like drinking poison to many people initially, but in reality it keeps the conversation safe and permanently moves their objections off the table, opening the door to truly effective problem solving.”
Finally, when you get your agenda on the table, be neutral and factual, and invite the other person to solve the problem with you. “Facts are your friends here,” Mr. Gallagher says. “Instead of saying, ‘You are rude to customers,’ say, ‘When you say X, here is how people react to it. What could you say instead? Would you like some suggestions?’”