If you need to criticize someone’s work, how should you do it? Recently, Harvard Business Review writer Sarah Green dug through the archives of the HBR to seek their best advice on what to do and what to avoid. Here are some of her recommendations for the best advice, along with links to past HBR articles, research and blog posts about the advice:
Don’t use the sandwich approach
What’s the sandwich approach? Starting out with a compliment, being critical in the middle, and then going back to compliment. Why is it bad? It sounds insincere and risks diluting your message. What to do instead: Separate your negative commentary from praise.
Have regularly scheduled check-ins with direct reports
If you have scheduled weekly check-in meetings, the natural flow of feedback, both negative and positive, becomes a normal part of a routine, not something that’s weighted with emotion.
Don’t combine critical feedback with discussions of pay and promotion
Mixing negative feedback with discussions of pay and promotion creates a toxic cocktail of emotions even the most mellow employee will have trouble managing. Make these separate conversations.
Sometimes, you must criticize in public
The adage “praise in public, criticize in private” doesn’t always work. Holding people accountable sometimes means discussing performance issues with the group, even if it feels uncomfortable.
You can help people understand that what you’re about to say is a critique if you start the conversation with, “Can I give you some feedback?” Of course, they’ll say “yes.”
(Link: Don’t Be Nice; Be Helpful)
Stick to the facts
Don’t assume you know the cause for what you are criticizing the employee for so stick to the critique. For instance, if employees are leaving early and showing up late, they could be having a family emergency or a health issue. Simply state the behavior you’ve observed and let them explain what’s going on.
Focus on results you’d like to see, not what’s wrong with the person
Make your critique about the impact the employee could achieve by working differently. Speak in terms of goals for the worker, and for you.
Be specific about the new behavior you’d like to see.
(Link: Feedback That Works)
Practice the 5-to-1 Compliment/Criticism Ratio
When you aren’t in a meeting to deliver negative feedback, remember that studies of both the most effective teams and the most happily married couples have shown that the ideal ratio is about five compliments to every criticism. So do shower your team with kudos — just not at the feedback meeting you’ve scheduled to deliver some negative feedback.