Sometimes leaders have to be critical in an attempt to improve a situation created by staff, colleagues, or upper level leaders. How the message is delivered can make the difference between a productive conversation and a damaged relationship. Use this template to guide your thinking as you craft what you want to say when constructive criticism is necessary.
1. Describe the problem, but don’t judge the person.
The lead sentence is pivotal in getting the other party to listen to you. Start with the word “I, “ not with the word “You” which can seem like an attack. Avoid adjectives that label the person and make it sound as if you’re name-calling. Stick with the facts, giving clear examples that pinpoint what concerns you.
Poor example: _You were insensitive to my staff and me when you changed the policy without asking for our input.
Better example: _I reviewed the new policy and found some areas that will create significant problems for my department.
2. Explain the impact of the problem.
Talk about why your concern is important. Attempt to persuade the other person that what s/he is doing is creating a legitimate concern. Once you’ve made your explanation, get agreement that a problem exists.
Poor example: Now we are stuck with a policy that is inoperable and wasting a great deal of our time.
Better example: Here are the areas in the new policy that create a roadblock for us… Here are the reasons each area is a problem… I think you can see where the issues come up.
3. Ask for the other person’s point of view and actively listen.
Keep an open mind, recognizing there may be aspects of the problem about which you are unaware. Ask questions for clarification to get more specific information that will help you understand the other’s perspective. If faced with defensiveness, avoid arguing and calmly restate what you are trying to accomplish. If the person takes responsibility and says s/he will take care of the issue, consider stopping the conversation here.
4. Discuss ways to solve the problem.
Talk together about what would make the situation better and agree on a solution that works for both of you. Avoid getting locked into a predetermined solution. Be ready to negotiate, taking the other person’s viewpoint into account.
Poor example: You have to revise the policy or we won’t be able to work with it.
Better example: __Would you be willing to make some adjustments to the policy? Here is what I suggest… In the future, it would be helpful if my staff could review a draft of new policies to identify issues before the final copy is put into place._
5. Outline next steps.
Solidify the agreement by agreeing on the next steps both you and the other person will take to put the solution into action. You may want to send a follow-up email reviewing what you each agreed to do.
Giving constructive criticism, when done skillfully, motivates others to see things from a different perspective and make needed changes. By creating openness and honesty, it builds trust and perpetuates more authentic relationships.