Scott’s Thoughts: The Constructive Critic

“Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.”

-Tom Peters, (born November 7, 1942), American writer on business management practices

Climbers helping one another.
It’a pretty easy to spot an area of improvement, but what’s the best way to go about bringing it up? How do you discuss the negative without giving in to negativity?

Here are some tips to tuning up your constructive criticism skills:

1. Be specific. It’s not enough to tell someone “they could be a little more organized.” You have to point to a specific example in order to encourage change. For instance, you might say: “Last week when I asked for those comps, I noticed it took quite a while for you to sift through that tower of paper on the corner of your desk.”

2. Suggest a fix. If all you can do is say something is wrong, your criticism isn’t constructive. Suggest a fix to the problem. For example: “Instead of a stack of papers on the desk, maybe we could look into a filing system that would allow you to have certain types of documents easily at hand.”

3. Don’t muddy the criticism with compliments. When you’re criticizing in the hopes someone improves their approach, there’s a perfectly natural urge to compliment them on other aspects of their behavior in order to “soften the blow.” Don’t do it. Keep your message on point and make sure the takeaway is the change you’d like to see. Otherwise, it can seem as though the other positive qualities you mention offset or “cover for” the troublesome issue.

4. Don’t belabor the point. Constructive criticism isn’t an invitation to a holistic performance review or airing of all grievances. Remember: You’re trying to fix one problem, so align the conversation with one problem and make it short. Ideally, the constructive criticism should come across in a way that leads to direct action, so don’t divert that impulse with excessive chatter.

As a leader, don’t shy away from your responsibility to create constructive criticism. Your team of two or two hundred will benefit from the honesty, clarity, and shared direction. And remember: leading by example is the most constructive act of all.

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