Understanding how to give constructive criticism is one of the most fundamental skills in the business world. It is essential in reconsidering marketing initiatives, improving employee performance, and even conducting self-assessments as a manager or company owner.
When offering criticism to an individual, you must be both courteous and frank, which is not always easy to do. Now, if you are about to go criticizing a company decision, you are dealing with a much larger player, and, for some, have more to lose than just a good relationship with a coworker by offering criticism.
So when directing your criticism towards the company for which you work, keep in mind these ten different ways to handle it with care.
1. Be Straightforward & Specific
You aren’t helping anyone by being vague. Attempting to conceal your criticism with sarcasm or passive-aggressive remarks, or even worse, generalities, quite often seem like a put-down as opposed to a solution-forward critique.
Saying something like “this isn’t working,” or “this is wrong” is vague, and subsequently can be applied to each part of the company’s decision. Rather, attempt to be as specific as you can. Speak to the particular components that are causing the issue.
2. Be Respectful
When moving forward with your criticism, keep your tone friendly while you speak about it seriously. Avoid using profanity and do not insult somebody’s character; stick to the decision. In other words, speak to others as you would want to be spoken to; show respect. If you are interrupted, don’t interrupt back. Allow their actions to speak for themselves. Stand up for yourself, but don’t let yourself to stoop to their level.
3. Suggest, Don’t Command
Sometimes you just know that you’re right and others agree that you’re right. When this is the case it’s easy to state your criticism in a demanding and demeaning way, e.g., “You have to start doing it this way.” This is rude and off-putting. It’s smarter to begin by offering suggestions — especially if you aren’t the boss.
4. Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Making a decision for an entire company is not often an easy one and can sometimes take months to come to. The people who make that decision are responsible for every single employee so don’t be quick to assume that the decision was a selfish one. Put yourself in their shoes.
Before you pass judgment or criticism, consider that the decision may have been difficult for them to make and they aren’t happy with it either.
5. Describe, Don’t Judge
Describe what you do not like about the decision as opposed to passing judgment on it. Being able to eloquently convey your concerns earns more respect than showcasing attitude, assumptions, or gossiping.
6. Give Praise Where Necessary
It is absolutely acceptable to start off your criticism by saying, “I realize this part and that part are the correct way to proceed.” This tends to make the blow easier to handle. It also lowers the guard of those who made the decision and will make them more open to criticism. However, make it clear that your intention is not to talk about what went right. Your superiors may not even hear the criticism you have to say or even question if you have a problem with a decision in the first place.
7. Give Recommendations on How to Improve
When you bring up a problem, always have a suggestion on how a team can fix it or improve. Nothing says constructive criticism more than being progress-oriented. Your recommendation will also show others that you have considered their decision and are not reacting to it hastily.
8. Keep Your Language Positive
Criticism doesn’t mean being negative, it means revealing areas that need improvement or are not where they should be, either subjectively or objectively. Therefore, it’s just as easy to be nice as it is to be mean. Being “nice” doesn’t mean being “soft,” though. It simply means using positive language. For instance, using criticism to build one’s thick-skin in preparation for the entertainment industry doesn’t have to always be, “You’re voice is terrible. You’ll never make it in music.” It can instead be, “You may want to consider a different avenue other than voice.” In terms of critiquing a business decision, it doesn’t have to be, “This decision will end up in the failure of the business if you don’t follow my solution.” It can be, “The business has a better chance at long-term gains if you follow my solution.”
9. Emotional Awareness
Think carefully about your emotional state of being before conveying criticism. Is it accurate to say that you are furious or on edge? Assuming that this is the case, your critique may end up a full-on assault and you could be told to pack up your desk and leave. Set aside some time to cool down and mull over the decision. Consider how your delivery of criticism ultimately morphs your image within the company, especially if you want to be taken seriously again. Go in armed with facts and passion, not straight-up emotion.
10. Don’t Make it Personal
As a professional, it is important to know that business is business — and that it’s not always about you. If the company decision is not specifically geared towards you, don’t make it about you.
Considering the ways in which you can turn criticism from a disastrous confrontation into respectful and informative constructive criticism, it is okay to pick your battles. Not every company decision you disagree with is worth your time and don’t feel bad if you don’t say anything at all. Then again, sometimes it’s okay to make a company decision personal, especially if the decision is discriminatory. Never be afraid to speak up for what is right. Just always be armed with facts! Too much emotion and speaking rudely won’t get you an audience, but don’t think you have to pander either.