By Andy Bailey
We’ve all probably read dozens of articles about how we should receive criticism when it’s offered in the workplace. Some of the repeated themes are, “Don’t take it personally,” “put yourself in your manager’s shoes,” “be objective and logical.” And, of course, “Don’t cry.”
At times, criticism can be a helpful tool, particularly when a skilled communicator is giving it in a positive and constructive manner. If it’s delivered – and received – well, it can even lead to improvements. Even so, maybe figuring out all the ways we can effectively point out employees’ mistakes is not the best way to go. Perhaps a thicker filter is a better tool than a thicker skin. If you’re a business owner, you know the secret to success is to inspire your team, every day. What you need to remember is that you can inspire your employees a lot faster when you choose to lift them up, rather than shoot them down. Think before you talk. Take a moment to put your critiques through a filter – that makes your suggested change a helpful coaching moment rather than a condemnation of your employee’s work.
The great Dale Carnegie devoted a whole chapter of his book, “How To Win Friends and Influence People,” to resisting the urge to criticize. He points out that criticizing others harshly rarely gets us the result we want. Think about it. The last time you chose to “correct” one of your employees in a less than friendly way, what did they say? Did they agree with you, and thank you for your helpful observation? Probably not. In all likelihood, they went on the defensive, justified their choices to you, and maybe even criticized you right back! Carnegie reminds us that “any fool can criticize…, and most fools do.” Below are some tips to help you avoid being one of them:
Compliments should outweigh criticism. Give compliments freely, whenever you think they are deserved. Be specific and authentic when giving them, as well. Reinforcing good behavior will give your employee a chance to repeat it, which is a win all around. A little positive reinforcement always produces better results than punishment.
Always assume everyone is doing his or her best. You took the time to hire the right people. Now, show them that you’re confident in their abilities. When you look at their work, don’t seek out errors. Expect the best, because people tend to live up to your expectations of them.
Flattery is not the same thing as a compliment. If something isn’t truly praiseworthy, don’t give credit where it’s not due. Compliments are only effective when they’re genuine. If you do notice great work or behavior, say so! Don’t hold back. And for maximum impact, take the time to write your employee a note.
Help solve the problem. It’s not enough to just point out a problem. If someone really needs to make a change, offer a solution. Share your knowledge and provide multiple options. This is your opportunity to be clear about what’s gone wrong and specific about how you’d like to see the problem fixed.
When you feel you have to say something…wait. Sometimes when you’ve got something on your mind, you’ve just got to say it right away, right? Well, maybe not. The heat of the moment doesn’t always foster great communication. Write down what you’ve got to say and sit on it for a day. Chances are you’ll come in the next day with a fresh perspective and are far more likely to be constructive and positive with your comments. Taking a step back will allow you to get across your message without alienating the recipient.
Everybody wants to do well. People don’t intentionally mess up. Encourage your employees by being clear about what’s working and helping them get better at what’s not. As business leaders, if we can get the people part of our business right, everything else will follow in suit. Have you complimented an employee today?
Andy Bailey is lead entrepreneur coach with business coaching firm Petra and serves in an advisory role on the Gazelle’s Council, The Leaders of The ScaleUp Movement. Visit his blog at www.petracoach.com for more business and leadership insight.