Oct 28, 2010

10 rules of criticizing constructively: part two of ''Criticize your employees - here is HOW''

In Criticize your employees - here is HOW, part 1, I outlined three stages of my NO PANIC system for criticizing your people, I recommend to managers and leaders:




and gave you 5 steps for Stage 1 - Preparation stage.

We are now moving to Stage 2: Criticize constructively and Stage 3: Follow up.



1. Do it promptly, face to face, in private.

Promptly: Hand out criticism as soon as possible. Don’t wait for days, let alone for the next appraisal. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to prepare. For preparation steps quickly refer to five steps in Criticize your employees - here is HOW, part one.

Face to face: Avoid doing it by e-mail. It looks cowardly, it takes more time to formulate, and employee can not defend himself. When interacting face to face you can see person’s reaction. You can also observe body language and see if person says one thing and sounds as if he doesn’t agree.

Be aware of, and try to suppress non-verbal criticism such as rolling eyes, head shaking, or disapproving facial expressions. While many of us find it difficult to hear criticism, it is even more unpleasant to be on the receiving end of non-verbal disapproval. I remember how hard it was to get through the day after facing boss's disgusted expression.

In private: Call employee to your office or talk in the quiet corner of the open plan office. Don’t embarrass employee in front of the others. It doesn’t have to take a log time. Keep it short, but don’t do it passing by as if it is a casual comment about the weather.

2. Agree the facts. Be specific. Find example and explain that.

Do not generalize, ‘’you are always late’’, ‘’you are not team player’’... Support your claim with the facts or evidence you collected in preparation stage e.g., ‘’you were late three times this week.’’ according to this attendance report.

3. Don’t criticize person but action. Don’t attack.

Don’t say, ‘’you are too extrovert’’, ‘’you are too introvert’’, ‘’you never finish what you start’’ or whatever other personality qualification you might be tempted to throw in.

You are not a therapist, and you are not trying to change a person, but the action.

4. Ask questions and listen to the answers.

Ask open and closed questions (how, why, what, who, is it, is it not….?) You will understand how or why something happened and may find out about loophole that needs to be closed.

5. Explain why it matters to be done certain way.

Explain why certain mistake must not to be repeated, or what happened due to what that person did. They must recognize the problem so they will not think ‘’I will do that because my boss wants me to’’ but will understand why it is important, where they made a mistake and how to improve.

6. Look for solution for particular problem.

Agree a remedy; ask for suggestion if appropriate. People are more likely to commit to goals they participate in setting. They might even volunteer a detail that is not known to you, which can help in solving a problem.

7. Don’t make comparisons. Provide specific goal and your expectations to which he or she can aspire.

Resist the temptation to compare one person’s record or habits with another’s. It’s annoying to be constantly told how well others do things, with the implication that your way somehow falls short. It’s much more effective to compare a person’s performance against stated goals or against your own expectations as a manager.

8. Don’t hide behind ‘’bigger’’ boss.

I know this is hard to resist because it seems like such an easy way out. I did it few times, I admit, and it was tried on me too, but if you keep using it regularly people will not take you seriously.

You are likely to be criticized by your boss for your people’s performance or behaviors, but do not keep hiding behind him when you are passing the message down, especially if he is right.

Doing that you are effectively apologizing for having to do your job, and saying you do tolerate whatever your boss won’t. There will be exceptions to this rule but don’t use this as an excuse.

There are other ways to show you are on your employee’s side and it is by supporting/challenging them to grow, perform, and improve - not by tolerating or covering their mistakes or negative behaviors.

9. Balance criticism with praise when deserved. End on a compliment. Reaffirm your support of a person.

You can say, ‘’I really appreciate your contribution to ABC project’’ or ‘’your monthly report was excellent.’’

After I was criticized for a performance in a slow month, a boss finished with ‘’you were my key player this year, I will push for your promotion.’’ It stayed in my mind for years and I felt as if he criticized me because he had my best interest at heart. It pushed me to go out of my way just to justify his confidence in me.

10. Keep this list of rules in your drawer and refer to it quickly before you need to deliver criticism.

It is never easy, or fun, but the system will help you save time and formulate the most effective criticism. You will probably make a mistake or two. It gets better and easier by time. You will certainly fine tune your skill, improve your confidence and team’s performance on the way.


After criticizing people for certain action, mistake, or overall performance, make sure to follow up. Make a note of it so you will remember to check if they delivered on what you agreed.

Praise or even congratulate them on improved performance or whatever positive outcome they achieved after you criticized them. This is where you will stand out, as most of us take it for granted that employee should/will improve after criticizing, forgetting to acknowledge improvement.

When you do praise them:

  • They will feel like you did not just criticize them for the sake of it.
  • They will be reminded you are monitoring their performance.
  • They will feel someone (you) care about them and their career.
  • They will respect you for that even if they don’t show it.

Remember it’s demoralizing for your people to feel they are noticed only when they have done something wrong.

After all you will feel better knowing you went through unpleasant task for a reason – to get better result and motivate your people. You will know you did a great job as a great manager.

Find a playlist of 5 short videos on criticizing on my Youtube channel.

Do you agree with anything? Did you find something you haven’t tried yet? Do you have experience you would like to share?

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