Leadership Skills: How to Give and Take Criticism


Perhaps the two toughest things we do are to give criticism and to receive criticism. We should examine both sides of this dynamic exchange because if we are committed to our careers and those of our staff, we will find ourselves on each side of the conversation. These pointers will make the conversation more effective.

Giving Feedback

  • Select a Good Time and Place: Always conduct a feedback session in private. Never conduct it when the person is too stressed to really hear what you are saying. If it is urgent, ask the person to 'take five' and come back to meet with you.

  • Remain Calm: If you are upset about an error, don't have the meeting while you are upset. Take a walk and have the discussion when you are calm. During the meeting, no matter what is thrown at you, remain calm. If it gets out of control, stop the meeting and set a time to continue.

  • Send a Clear Message: Don't beat around the bush. Be precise. Let your team member know exactly what is not working and your suggestion for improvement. Have notes handy with specific details. Always criticize the behavior, not the person. Make sure the receiver understands completely by asking them to paraphrase or soliciting questions or comments from them.

  • Start and Finish: Some people say to start and finish with positive comments. However, if your positive comment is about good work, your critical message may get lost in the midst of the positive notes. Instead, start with a positive comment such as, "I care about your success, and the success about our department. That is why I wanted to meet with you." End with, "I am hoping we can work together to improve XXX and XXX will be much better because we addressed this together today."

  • Check with Human Resources: As a manager, if you are unsure if your criticism is appropriate or legal, consult your Human Resources Manager. In general, stick to job performance issues -- duties and tasks the employee has the ability to improve.

  • Don't Be Repetitive: Don't hammer them over the head again and again. Make your point and move on. Conversely, if you feel your critic or manager is becoming repetitive. Maybe it is because they are nervous, or maybe they are not sure they're getting through to you. Try saying, "I am glad you came to me and I understand."

Receiving Criticism

  • If your critic is not tactful, focus on the issue. If you are faced with an angry manager, be strong and cut through the noise for the underlying message.

  • Don't argue with the criticism: Accept it for the information submitted. Think about it after the meeting. If you feel it was untrue, schedule a follow up meeting. Often the shock of the message can evoke an emotional response. It is better to collect your thoughts and schedule a second meeting.

  • Tell the critic that you appreciate his or her advice. Letting down your guard invites a relationship of mutual trust and sharing.

Candid feedback helps us grow. We may get off track a bit and constructive advice can steer us in the right direction. When we are giving feedback, charity and encouragement help a team member to improve.

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