Dishing out constructive criticism isn’t quite as tough as being on the receiving end of it. But, let’s face it—providing that feedback can still present some challenges.
Ultimately, your goal is to correct a behavior and help that specific person become better at his or her job. And, in an ideal world, you’d be able to do so in a way that didn’t make you seem overly aggressive or condescending (while also avoiding any tears or blow-up arguments).
We all know that can be a dangerously thin tightrope to walk. Fortunately, I’m here to set you in the right direction. Stay far away from these cringe-worthy phrases when you’re offering that hard-to-hear feedback, and you’ll come off as supportive—rather than smug and superior.
1. “You Always…”
Always. It seems like such a small and innocent word, doesn’t it? It has a sneaky way of creeping into all sorts of types of feedback. But, I can’t be the only one who instantly bristles as soon as this word escapes someone’s lips.
What’s so bad about it? Well, think about what “always” actually represents: It means there’s a mistake that has happened on a frequent enough basis that you can chalk it up as something that person repeatedly does.
Maybe that’s true. However, constructive criticism is hard enough to swallow without being made to feel like you’ve been screwing the same thing up for all of eternity (and nobody bothered to let you know until this very moment).
So, do yourself a favor and skip the dreaded “a word.” It’s not doing you (or that other person) any favors.
2. “Everybody Has Noticed That…”
Receiving somebody else’s input on how you could be better might be helpful—but, it can also be somewhat embarrassing. We all like to think that we’re knocking things out of the park in the office, and being told otherwise can feel disheartening.
With that in mind, the last thing you want to do is pile on the negative comments and make that person feel ganged up on or gossiped about.
Maybe other colleagues have noticed that your direct report never refills the printer’s paper tray—and they haven’t been shy about pointing it out to you.
That doesn’t mean that you need to relay the details of every single complaint when talking to that employee. In the end, it shouldn’t matter how many people have witnessed an incorrect behavior. What matters is that the person is aware that she needs to fix it.
3. “If I Were You…”
Constructive criticism is generally better received when it’s rooted in fact—as opposed to just opinion.
Remember, not everybody works the same way, which means that just because you’d do something differently doesn’t necessarily mean the way that other person is doing it is wrong and warrants correction.
This phrase has a way of coming off as particularly patronizing, and will likely only inspire people to tune out the rest of your feedback. When in doubt, just skip the personal judgments.
Offering constructive criticism isn’t quite as anxiety-inducing as needing to listen and implement it—but, it comes pretty close.
Fortunately, it’s more than possible to provide helpful feedback in a way that doesn’t make other people immediately cringe or roll their eyes.
Where do you start? By making sure you skip these three phrases. Do that, and you’re that much more likely to offer criticism that’s actually constructive—and not the least bit condescending.
Photo of colleagues working courtesy of Hero Images/Getting Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. In addition to writing for The Muse, she's also the Career Editor for The Everygirl, a columnist for Inc., and a contributor all over the web. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her rescued terrier mutt or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author