Is There Really Constructive Criticism?

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The other day I overhead a discussion about whether or not the term constructive criticism was dead. It struck me that I had not spoken that term in quite some time. Had I evolved my management style or was I missing something?

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Was it possible that in this day of new ideas for leadership, entrepreneurship, and personal growth we did not need this kind of criticism anymore? So, for starters, I went to Google. Let me tell you NO, the concept is NOT dead.

Maybe I am just being nit-picky about the term. I don’t like it, never have. If you are going to criticize me, just do it. Do not try to flower it up, sugar coat it, or make it any less hard to swallow; just do it. Tell me what is on your mind, then let’s talk about how to fix it.

In my early years of being a team leader, the phrase was somehow supposed to be a conversation starter. “Hey Joe/Sally, let me give you some constructive criticism.” You could see and feel the push-back starting right away. So I stopped relying on that as a crutch. Truthfully, it was from these kinds of experiences I started formulating my own ideas about coaching and mentor-ship.

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As an executive coach, I find criticism always to be a touchy subject. Yes, certain behaviors need to be identified then corrected, modified, or eliminated. How constructive the session becomes is always up to the leader.

Here are some ideas and methods I recommend.

  1. Get Their Attention – Using my theme above, “Joe/Sally, let’s talk about that last event.” Find a place to have the discussion; never in open air or within earshot of their peers.
  2. Identify the Issue/Behavior – Focus on a ‘thing’ not the person. Behavior is a thing.
  3. Stay Focused on the Thing – DO NOT let the discussion slip over into some statement about the person. Hopefully, you, as the leader, are not harboring any other thoughts about this person. That’s a whole other topic for a later discussion.
  4. Break It Down – Since the topic of discussion is usually historic (meaning an event that just happen or a series of events), take it apart into reasonable bite size pieces.
  5. Now Discuss – Now you can begin to dive into the matter, discussing how the behavior or event did not fit the expectation.
  6. Reinforce Standards – Now is the time to re-state your expectations and those of the team/unit/company.
  7. Ask for a Commitment – Get their feedback on the topic. Do they agree? Great. If not, return to #1 and repeat.

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