A Foolproof System for Delivering Constructive Criticism
These guidelines take out the guesswork for feedback that sticks
Giving constructive criticism is an important communication skill, especially in the workplace. As with any other skill, your effectiveness will depend largely on your process.
Deborah Grayson Riegel, an executive communication coach and business school instructor, tells me there’s a tried and true method for delivering feedback. She’s taught these best practices to top CEOs across the U.S. and at elite business schools like the Wharton School. And they’ll work for you, too:
Set the stage. Ask the person whether they’re open to receiving feedback. If they are, then set up a specific time to do so.
State your intention. Be clear about why you’re giving them feedback. Before you start, make sure that you’re clear about this intention yourself. It shouldn’t be to embarrass or degrade the person, only to help them be more successful.
Name the issue that you’re observing. This should be objective, morally neutral, and quantifiable. Focus on specific actions (“In our meeting I saw you interrupt our client three times”), not vague character statements (“You were being rude”).
Tell them how what you observed compares to what the norm is. If you haven’t communicated the norm ahead of time, now’s the time to say, “Here’s what’s expected.”
Share the impact of their behavior. I call this the “so what.” This ensures that the person will understand why it will make a difference to adjust their behavior.
Put the behavior in context of the person’s values. I try to say something really concrete here like: “One of the things I know about you is that you care deeply about our client, so I’d like you to consider making a change that I think may better reflect that.”
Ask, “What do you think?” Show that you respect their autonomy and ideas. After all, if that weren’t the case, you wouldn’t be having this conversation with them in the first place.
Come up with an action plan. Every plan needs a “now what?” Ideally it will be collaborative, but if not, it should come more from them than from you.
Thank them. Being able to receive feedback is a behavior you want to reinforce, so if they do it and do it well, let them know.
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article had an incorrect byline. The excerpt from “The Little Book of Life Skills” heavily quotes and paraphrases Deborah Grayson Riegel, but was written by Erin Zammett Ruddy.