Friday, July 28, 2006

Deliver Criticism, How Not to

Delivering criticism is an important task in any workplace and yet relatively few people receive any formal training on how to do it well.

I've seen executives, managers, and supervisors who fumbled their delivery by:
  • Bringing in unrelated issues;
  • Weaving in a personal attack with what should be a discussion of performance;
  • Acting as if they enjoy being the bearer of bad news;
  • Behaving like an adversary instead of an ally;
  • Failing to give examples;
  • Using unnecessarily provocative language;
  • Failing to show its impact on others;
  • Rushing through the process; and
  • Failing to put the problem in context.

It is surprising to see how often people make comments that can only trigger anger or defensiveness. When questioned later about what they thought would be the reaction of the other person to their remarks, they frequently concede that the comments would create a barrier but - and this is the important part - they don't really care. The ostensible goal of the session is to improve the other person's performance and yet the real goal is to make the critic feel better. The moment that shift occurs, all hopes of a productive session are finished.

As one of the smartest executives I've ever known put it, "When you're mad, don't do anything that feels good."

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