Delivering criticism to a team can be a significant cause of leadership stress for many leaders. It’s not always easy to find the proper balance between sugar-coated comment and pointless put-down. But when someone makes a mistake, requires correction, or falls short of their duties, ignoring or obfuscating the issue is more harmful to your workplace culture than addressing it head-on.
So, how can you deal criticism in a way that lets your team member know where they went wrong, and, just as importantly, how they can improve? Let’s examine 5 phrases that can serve as templates or starting points for more effective workplace criticism.
1. “I like where this is headed. Let’s see what we can improve…”
This is a powerful phrase to employ when your team or team member suggests an idea that has merit but plenty of flaws. Rather than starting with the problems, begin with a sincere recognition of the idea’s potential. This will energize the team while also focusing everyone’s efforts on trimming the fat and making necessary changes.
2. “The team could really benefit from more of your input.”
If you’re a team manager, you may experience an occasional imbalance in effort and input from your employees. Sometimes a minority of the team makes most of the calls. Or, perhaps a single team member rarely, or never, contributes to the creative process. When this happens, don’t just tell them to talk more during meetings. Instead, let them know that the team is lacking an important piece of the puzzle. This often motivates a less assertive team member to make their opinion known.
3. “This area seems to be a challenge for you.”
We all have our weaknesses. The key is identifying them so we know which areas we must work to improve. But it’s not always easy to make out our own faults. One of the most important leadership traits is being able to not only identify these problem areas in your team members, but also point them out without hesitation or ambiguity. Using the above phrase provides a solid entry point into this conversation, as it doesn’t personally attack the individual in question but still addresses the concern.
4. “You haven’t been meeting your performance goals/expectations.”
By letting a staff member know in simple terms that they haven’t been meeting their expectations, you accomplish a few important things. First, you reiterate what’s objectively expected of them, as laid out in previous conversations. Second, you open the door for a conversation on why these goals aren’t being met. And third, you can begin crafting a tangible performance management strategy for getting back on track. This is more effective than telling them they’re not doing a good job, or demanding results without a reminder of the company’s expectations.
5. “What do you think could have happened differently?”
Finally, effective leadership depends on reciprocity and communication. If you’re going to lead well, the conversation must go both ways. So, when someone messes up, make sure you ask what they thought of the situation, and how they might have handled it differently. To avoid coming off as patronizing, sincerely listen to what they have to say and give your thoughts as well.
No matter the circumstance, coming up with constructive criticism is a challenge for all leaders, but vital to maintaining an open and productive workplace. The above phrases are just a handful of examples that can help you address important issues without making it personal or sowing seeds of resentment.
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