Ah, the managing nightmare scenario: While having a one-on-one with an employee to discuss possible areas of improvement, you suddenly find that you’ve put your critique in such a way that now said employee has become defensive, angry, tearful, offended, or some combination thereof. Now you may feel a bit angry and defensive yourself, or perhaps like a deer in headlights, wondering, “What went wrong? What just happened?”

Whether you take too gruff an approach or your employees need slightly thicker skin, you can effectively offer true constructive criticism without anyone flinging curse words or paperweights.

  • Focus on the behavior, not the person. As an example, say an employee frequently says he’ll take care of something “by end of day tomorrow” and then never meets the deadline. First of all, he’s probably not the only person who does this. So when you bring it up, describe the incident but keep it broad — don’t specify that he did this with X client. Then it can be discussed less as something that only he did; it’s something he and others need to change so it doesn’t affect other employees or clients.
  • Accentuate the positives. Some people like to take the “sandwich” approach: Start with something the employee does well and praise that. Then move to the criticism and figure out how it affects the person’s work and what can be done. Even the most constructive of criticism feels better after having heard something positive…and you may be able to utilize the person’s strengths to solve the problem.
  • Make the time for the conversation. Whether giving criticism comes in the form of a regular evaluation or simply something that needs addressing at a particular time, conduct the conversation privately and schedule it rather than springing it on the employee — ignoring either tactic will inevitably cause embarrassment and defensiveness, neither of which makes for a helpful conversation. And give it the time it deserves for a true discussion rather than an employer coming down from on high issuing a scolding to a lower rung employee…you may even want to admit that you’ve dealt with similar shortcomings.
  • Keep it concise and constructive. Have a clear idea of what you want to talk about before having the conversation; this will help you avoid beating around the bush and putting the criticism in its simplest terms so the employee doesn’t have to guess what you’re getting at. Then talk together about real solutions, inviting the employee to make suggestions so true improvement can happen.

Neither you nor the employee has to dread the “constructive criticism conversation” if you take some time to frame it right to have a productive meeting. Reach our to the Thousand Oaks staffing professionals at PrideStaff Thousand Oaks for more management strategies.

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