To be an effective manager, you need to be skilled at giving out both praise and criticism. While praise is easy to give (although sometimes it’s given, but not truly meant) or (given for the wrong reasons or to the wrong people), it’s far more challenging and unpleasant to criticise your employees. Managers avoid it as nobody enjoys the thought that their work or behaviour isn’t meeting the recognised standards. The practice of management, supervision or direction requires you to occasionally show employees where they need to improve, why and how.
The first thing to realise is that people generally respond more strongly to negative events than positive ones. In other words, we’re often more upset about losing £100 than we are happy about winning £100. People don’t like failure. Fear of failure is common to people at all levels. They don’t want to be embarrassed and nor sometimes do they want to accept the truth. Negative feedback can have significant adverse effects on an employee’s well-being and, in all likelihood, their productivity. Franklin D Roosevelt, former American president, put it well in his inaugural address, albeit in a different context, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
You should avoid inadvertently criticising any of your employees for the sake of it (easily and, alas, commonly done). Sounds weird doesn’t it but bosses shout, criticise, accuse and create mayhem for no real reason sometimes or just because they’re having a tough day themselves. That’s bullying and will never, ever lead to a successful outcome. (You might wish to read an excellent book on this subject called The Evil Executive by Simon Maier).
There’s a huge difference between flat criticism of a general nature, “This is lousy work” and a softer, “Let’s go through this and see how we make it better.” If an employee writes a report, say, some managers might want to suggest revisions even if the draft was generally good. In these situations, managers should communicate that their revisions are merely suggestions coming from an alternative perspective and that they aren’t a criticism of the employee’s performance. Of course, if the draft report is totally off beam then either the communications or instructions were fallible, or the employee isn’t up to the task for whatever reason. Or they’re just on the wrong wavelength.
Be careful. There’s a thin line to tread. If you criticise your employees, you’ll possibly provide corrective information, but you can also alienate that employee. That shouldn’t stop you doing what’s necessary, but there’s no value in being negative over something inconsequential. Choose your criticism as you would your battles. That doesn’t mean at all that anyone should be exempt from criticism if there’s a serious issue, but repeated criticism will eventually defeat someone.
It’s important not to lose sight of your purpose for offering any feedback and primarily it is to improve the employee’s performance. As much as you might want to give the employee the most serious of warnings for what you believe is a spectacularly awful performance, if nobody gains anything and if nothing changes, then there’s no value in it. Certainly not mid-project unless it’s going wrong. Not least, employees who suffer regular criticism will likely decide to decrease their productivity intentionally. So, soften the emotional blow stifles their creativity. You want your employees to focus on the result that you seek rather than any intense negative emotion.
Ensure that all of your critical conversations are private. There’s nothing more humiliating than being criticised in front of colleagues or, indeed, anyone. Would you like it? Maintain a collaborative tone. Make it plain that your employee still has your support - and your respect. Without either, failure will ensue. Also, you should focus on potential future improvements, instead of dwelling on past errors. But, on the other hand, over-praising becomes diluted with over-use and therefore achieves diminishing returns.
High performing people and organisations that appreciate them don’t happen by chance. Positivity and practical criticism play their part. There is no one right way to give feedback because the one giving feedback, you let’s say - and the one receiving it - is unique in temperament, emotional intelligence and in how you process information. But get the balance right, and the result can be huge, for everyone concerned.
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