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The Art of Constructive Criticism

Constructive CriticismConstructive Criticism – now there’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one! Indeed, constructive criticism is one sure way to get a work colleague’s back up!

Feedback is a better alternative for observing and commenting on work performance and behaviours. Semantics, you might think – but there’s more to it than that.

Criticism tends to focus on what is wrong or what someone has done wrong, while feedback tends to focus on both right and wrong – it is an overall observation of what is.

If you’re going to comment on someone’s work – even if you want to highlight something negative – do it as feedback, and never, never, never begin your observations with “Just some constructive criticism…” Ouch!

Your feedback should be for the purpose of improving performance and systems, not to score points or prove a point. Your intent should be to make the other person aware of how they can improve what they’re doing, and what they are currently doing ‘right’. Too often we assume that people just know what to do because it seems like common sense to us. And even though people are doing it ‘right’ it’s nice to have someone verify it.

After your feedback the person should feel empowered to improve, not feel that you’re a nit-picking pain whose whole purpose in life is to make their lives miserable! That certainly doesn’t encourage a ‘team’ atmosphere.

A great recipe for giving feedback is with a ‘Feedback Sandwich’.

Basically there are a few layers to this particular sandwich.

There is the initial slice of bread – this is where you tell the person what they are doing right already.

Now, this isn’t about ‘sucking up’ or ‘trying to win someone over’ – it’s about a genuine observation of what the person is doing correctly. 

It could be as simple as:

“Hey, you did a good job getting that oil cleaned up – what did you use?”

“Geeze, you make that look easy.”

Or as at one workplace “Nice goggles – good to see someone’s wearing them… hey, they match your eyes!”. This made the staff member laugh – obviously a private joke that I wasn’t privvy to – but it had the desired affect. The Supervisor was then able to stress the importance of the worker unrolling their sleeves to protect their forearms – with little resistance to the ‘feedback’.

The next part of the sandwich is the filling – this is where you tell the person how they could improve what they are currently doing. Maybe they forgot to fill in a certain form, wear specified PPE, or have deviated from the procedures manual.

Then the last slice of bread – you finish off with what the person was doing right (again). You could build on what you said they were doing right earlier, or you could highlight something else that you noticed they are excelling at.

Once again, it’s as simple as: 

“When you have a chance can I get you to spend some time with … he’s struggling a bit and could do with your expertise.”

“Great that you’re wearing the goggles – the newbies will start wearing them now too without me having to get on their backs about it. Thanks.”

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

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