How to criticise without causing chaos

We all know how uncomfortable and embarrassing it can be to receive criticism, but many of us find it just as difficult to give criticism to others. Even if the person receiving the criticism takes it really well, it can leave you feeling like you’ve been a real jerk. If the person receiving the criticism doesn’t take it well, it can cause ongoing issues with clear communication, making you feel like you can’t open up again and making them feel as though they are always on edge.

There are ways to criticise without causing chaos though – here are a few pointers:

Judge the action, not the person

This is one of the most important rules on delivering constructive criticism. Ensuring you bring attention to the work or results of the behaviour of the person you’re addressing, rather than their personality. Sure, you might actually think the person you’re criticising is lazy or stupid, but if you were to tell them that, you’re bound to run into disaster. Instead, how about telling them that ‘working faster will have a positive effect on the people relying on them’, or that ‘putting a little more effort into concentrating on the job at hand will ensure they succeed’. Focus your criticism on specific actions and highlight the benefits of changing the way they do those specific actions and there will be less sting to your criticism.

Use criticism for the right reasons

Constructive criticism is designed to help the person who is being criticised – it’s definitely not designed for you to vent or belittle someone! Keep that in mind next time you plan to use criticism and ensure you’re criticising for the benefit of all. It’s always a good idea to point out that you’re genuinely trying to help the person succeed in their task and that – in delivering your criticism – you are hoping to see them succeed.

‘Sandwich’ your criticism between positive appraisals

This universally successful method basically involves ‘sandwiching’ your criticism between two positive compliments about the person’s actions, in order to reduce the shock a little bit. An example of this would be something along the lines of “I love how you’ve been writing those articles; however, I feel your work would be even better if you ensured you double checked facts before writing them down. By doing this, your already excellent work would become outstanding!”. Having said this, it is extremely important to ensure your compliments are genuine – people easily notice lip service when they are already on edge from being criticised.

Be careful when trying to offer helpful advice

Criticism should be more like feedback, rather than advice. Sure, it’s fine to give somebody detailed instructions on how to complete a task that needs to be completed in a specific way, but don’t tell people how to do things your way. An example of this would be telling a tardy colleague that they should get out of bed earlier in the morning. You likely have no idea why they are repeatedly late to work – maybe they have sleep issues, multiple kids to deal with or their car has broken down, forcing them to walk to work! Instead, let them know that the result of them being late every day is forcing their colleagues to work extra-long hours to pick up the slack.

Give them a goal

Similar to the above point, don’t tell them what to do, but certainly point out the benefit of them changing their behaviour. Instead of harping on about how – for example – being late every day is selfish and lazy, perhaps just mention something along the lines of “Hey, I know we start early around here, but if you were able to make it in a bit earlier in the future, it would really go a long way towards improving our productivity as a team, which might lead to pay rises in the near future”. Some people get so caught up in the minutiae of everyday life, they often forget how the little things impact themselves and others. By criticising with sensitivity and pointing out the benefits of change, you might be surprised to see changes implemented immediately, once the person actually recognises the impact their behaviour is having.

Let them give permission for criticism

If it’s not totally essential, but you feel your criticism would really help the person you’re offering it to, why not ask them if they actually want advice? It’s as simple as saying “Hey, I do that a little bit differently than you – would you like me to show you how my method works?”.

Offer to help

Finally, if you see someone struggling, why not offer to help? In the example of a colleague who is always running late, you could suggest “I noticed you’ve been late to work the last couple of weeks and was wondering if your car has broken down – is there anything I can do to help?”. You’d be surprised how many people are struggling with a problem because they just haven’t felt comfortable asking for help!

The CFS Team
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