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Critiques and Criticism: Never Easy – But Necessary

Supervising the work of others will eventually result in having to critique and offer constructive criticism. It can be uncomfortable for everyone involved. But there is a way you can do it that should make it easier.

Before you pull a worker aside, think about what you want to accomplish, what success will look like, and different strategies for improvement.  You want to make sure that you are prepared to be constructive.

Your intent should be to help someone improve, rather than hurt someone’s feelings, or prove that you are the boss who can demand compliance.

Going into a critique meeting, you should make sure you are calm and not reacting out of emotion. Be like Benjamin Franklin, who wrote in his autobiography about the importance of using diplomatic language. “When I advance anything that may be disputed, [I never use] the words certainly, undoubtedly or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so if I am not mistaken.”

Schedule the meeting in advance and tell the person you will be meeting with about the nature of the discussion. For example, saying, “John, let’s get together this afternoon to discuss the new inventory database.” Not only does no one like to be caught off guard, but this advance notice will allow the person to prepare.

The following FIVE things will make your critique session more productive:

  1. Be specific and straightforward. If you dance around the subject because you don’t like confrontation, little will be accomplished. For example, if you told me that my work “isn’t meeting our standards, “I am not sure how to improve or what to direct my attention to.
  2. Focus on work and not on a person and consider the person’s feelings. Two things that have worked for me are to work in a compliment whenever possible and a touch of understanding. Try something like, “You’ve always done such a good job tracking our inventory, and I know the new database is confusing, but let me show you how you can better.”
  3. Be sure that you have specific suggestions for improvement.  Once you’ve made them, be prepared to listen. It could be that your idea has been previously tried. By encouraging a dialogue, you are likely to get greater buy-in.
  4. Once you and the person have agreed on a new course of action, make it a point to follow up appropriately.
  5. Be discreet. No one else needs to know about this conversation. So your meeting should be private, and if others find out, you should not share details with others.

Done correctly, meetings like this will be beneficial to your organization and the person involved. Sometimes employees find them motivating. In a Harvard Business Review study, workers by a three to one margin said receiving constructive criticism helps improve their morale than even positive feedback.


Some people are easier to work with than others. If you manage someone who is more of a challenge, you will certainly benefit from my online course, “Managing Difficult People” Check it out. There is a money-back-guarantee. But based on the experience of many managers like you, I know you will find it very helpful.

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