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Criticize Constructively

One of the rarest management skills—and one of the most difficult to learn—is how to criticize constructively. Constructive criticism shows consideration for other people’s feelings and invites their suggestions and cooperation. When you can’t figure out how to criticize something constructively, the wisest course is to keep your mouth shut until you do. Criticism that starts out by attacking people and putting them in the position of having to defend themselves often turns small problems into big ones. Usually the best way to start is with simple, friendly questions, queries that will give people a chance to explain their position without being offended and without getting excited. Then, after you’ve listened carefully, suggest the changes you’d like them to make—whatever they are— and see what they think of them.

Don’t push for an immediate decision if it isn’t necessary, or if there is still substantial disagreement. Ask them to think it over. Tell them you will too.Later, if you still believe in the changes you want to make, get together with them again. Explain that you’ve thought it over carefully and still believe the idea is worth a try. Tell them you feel an obligation to give it a fair chance, and you’re counting on them to do the same.

One other important point; when you have to criticize or question someone’s actions or ideas, always to it to his or her face. Discuss it with the person involved. Don’t let him or her hear your criticism secondhand.

Bits & Pieces, August 22, 1991