Every leader has to give constructive criticism from time to time. In fact, feedback is necessary to build a strong team and make sure your company is on track to reach its goals.
But chances are, you've been on the receiving end of unpleasant feedback before, and you don't want to be that person. In the past, the managers I have enjoyed working with most have been with bosses who have given feedback in a tactful, kind, and constructive way. And the ones who didn't? Well, those jobs were very short-lived.
The good news is, you don't have to be that kind of boss. Here's how to give constructive criticism well:
How to give constructive criticism
Before you confront your co-worker, make sure to plan ahead. "Taking time to plan what you're going to say and how you're going to say it beforehand can make or break the successful delivery of negative feedback," says David Levine, a former chief of staff at the White House Office of Administration. This helps you to avoid miscommunication or going off on unrelated tangents.
Your tone of voice is important. When giving feedback, it's important to leave your emotion out of the conversation and address the issue objectively.
One method of giving feedback is called the "compliment sandwich," or "hamburger." Start by praising the person for something they've done well (the fluffy top bun), then address the issue (the meat), and finish off with a positive remark about the person (the fluffy bottom bun).
Here's an example of "hamburger method" feedback:
- Top Bun: "It's really terrific that you have been taking the initiative to do Projects X, Y, and Z."
- Meat: "I'm wondering if we can put a bit more focus on Project J this week. Are there any roadblocks I can help you with?"
- Bottom Bun: "Based on the work you did on Project X, I'm confident you will be great at delivering this project on time by making it the first priority. I'm happy to answer any questions, or help in any way I can."
The last part contains an expectation for the person to meet, which is an important factor in all feedback. Good constructive criticism doesn't just expose a problem, but gives the person a roadmap to the expected destination. Levine advises leaders to give the context of the criticism, including why the issue is important and how it relates to the company or group as a whole.
Finally, be prepared to listen. Make sure you give the other person room to speak and share their ideas, too.
Advice for managers and leaders
Here are a few more things to keep in mind when giving constructive criticism to your team.
"Negative feedback doesn't need to be negative," explains Levine. Even though your feedback is addressing a problem, "you don't need to be negative when delivering it."
Keeping in mind the feedback's goal can help. "When you realize that negative feedback is intended to provide a positive result in the future," says Levine, "it completely changes the way you think about it." The next time you're giving feedback in the office, remember that most people are striving for a positive outcome, and put yourself in the receiver's shoes.
Feedback is best given verbally and face-to-face, although a phone call or video chat can work well, too. Finally, if you're going to give feedback, make sure you're open to feedback from others. Not only will your team become stronger, but you will too.