How To Master The Art Of Constructive Criticism

Feedback Via Meetings, Emails, and Doc Annotations Can Help Your Business Grow– But Only If You Do It Right!

When you put together the team of bright, enthusiastic people who brought your startup to life, you didn’t choose them because they all had the same skillset. No, quite the opposite– small businesses thrive when people from different backgrounds bring their unique knowledge and experiences together to make their common vision a reality. That’s awesome! However, since your team won’t always agree and nobody’s an expert on everything, learning how to deliver an effective critique is a must.

But how can you deliver criticism that’s truly constructive? How can you ensure your interactions with your team– from email correspondence to comments on collaborative docs — are pushing your business in the right direction? Here are our suggestions:

  • Deliver feedback in front of the smallest audience possible
  • Keep your tone positive and focus on growth
  • Make sure your comments are clear, specific, and supported

When delivering feedback in person, you don’t need to get your whole team involved. Sit down one-on-one, or with the specific group of people you would like to address.

1. Deliver feedback without involving unnecessary people.

It’s a fact of life that not every conversation concerns every person. That’s why your IT guy or gal doesn’t sit in on your marketing calls. When it comes to delivering constructive criticism to an individual team member, you don’t want to involve an audience– even longtime friends or colleagues.

No matter how well you handle the situation, it still might be uncomfortable for the recipient of your critique, and you don’t want them to feel undermined or defensive because you are delivering feedback to them in front of a group.

Our tips:

  • It’s all about location. Schedule a one-on-one meeting with your team member somewhere private– like your office or a nearby coffee shop.
  • Be careful what you ask for. Don’t invite your team member to meet with you in a way that might make them feel alarmed (“We need to discuss your performance”)– instead, keep it positive (“Let’s set aside some time to catch up later and discuss your progress”)

Whether you are providing constructive criticism in person or digitally through emails or annotations, you can sandwich constructive criticism between positive comments for better results.

2. Be positive and maintain a growth mindset.

Nobody likes to receive “bad news.” While constructive criticism isn’t inherently bad news, it can feel that way when you’re on the receiving end of the critique. Maintaining the right tone and delivering your message correctly is the most important thing you can do to make sure your feedback is effective.

If you are able to keep the tone of the conversation positive overall and oriented towards finding opportunities for growth, your team member is much more likely to be receptive to your feedback.

Our tips:

  • Make a good-bad-good sandwich. Start out your conversation by talking about some of the things your team member has done well recently, deliver your feedback, and end on a positive node by expressing your excitement about continuing to grow and improve in the future. This tactic works well for in-person feedback as well as written or digital annotations on team member work!
  • Always frame feedback using a growth mindset. What’s the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset? People with a static mindset tend to believe their abilities are static, which makes it easy for them to interpret criticism as a personal attack. Framing your feedback as an opportunity for growth and a way to help them reach their full potential is a good way to avoid this.
  • Work together. Involve your team member in finding a solution. Ask questions to get them involved and help them see how they can improve.

You wouldn’t go into any other meeting without an agenda– be sure you are clear and able to support your constructive criticism with examples.

3. Give clear feedback based on specific observations.

When delivering constructive criticism, don’t expect the person you are speaking with to know what you’re talking about going into the conversation. Your feedback is based on your own observations and advice, and your team member hasn’t been able to see things unfold from your perspective.

Our tips:

  • Take notes. When you observe opportunities for growth in your interactions with your team, make a note of the situation. That way, you can reference it later in more detail.
  • Don’t beat around the bush. When delivering constructive feedback, don’t add too much “fluff” to soften the blow. Be clear and direct about what you have observed and how you think it could be improved.

Sharing knowledge is part of how small businesses become big businesses, and knowing how to effectively deliver feedback is essential to the process.

Whether you are leaving feedback on a collaborative file one of your team members spent a great deal of time and energy working on or you need to sit down with someone to deliver feedback in person, giving effective criticism is difficult. However, mastering the art of constructive criticism is essential to the success of your team– and your company– which makes it well worth it.

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