Constructive Criticism Can Be More Valuable than Praise

People love to be praised. Good managers know this, and take every opportunity to reward good performance with a word of public praise.

What many don’t realize is that constructive criticism is also welcomed by employees. There are two reasons for this: first, it lets employees know you are paying attention to them; second, it gives them an opportunity to improve. Let’s look at how you can increase the value of both aspects.

A large number of people in the workplace feel that nobody pays any attention to them. They don’t get much recognition for their daily contribution. They are unlikely to make any suggestions for doing things better, because they doubt that anyone is actually listening or that their views are valued. By giving feedback that helps them improve, you show that you do value them.

Of course, nobody likes hearing nothing but bad news, so just telling someone they are doing a terrible job certainly won’t be welcome. On the other hand, pointing out something that should be improved, and helping them find a way to do that, helps both the employee and the company.

As a manager, you might say, “Bob, I’ve noticed we are way behind with the billings. Come on into my office and let’s see if we can come up with a way to fix that.” The language is non-threatening, and the emphasis is on the correction aspect. Not only that, but there’s the implication that it’s not just Bob’s problem and you are willing to contribute to finding a solution.

Now there is a fine line here. In the discussion itself, you need to make clear that the billings are still Bob’s responsibility, and in the end he is the one who must clear the backlog. But an open discussion of the problem will go a long way to helping him do so. As in so many aspects of business, good communication is essential.

Begin the conversation by assuring him that you are pleased with his performance generally — if, of course, that’s true — but that you want to focus on this specific area that needs to improve. Point out that since he is part of your team, it’s part of your job to help him succeed so that the whole team will benefit. This helps to remove any animosity he may be feeling.

If Bob wants to tell you why the situation exists, give him that opportunity. If you can help remove the difficulties, do that. Otherwise, focus the discussion not on the causes of the problem, but on the solution.

As you probably know from your own experience, it’s possible to be so close to a task that you don’t see the simple solutions, whereas someone else can. If you can point out something simple that makes Bob say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”, you can end the discussion with a smile and Bob will be eager to get back to the job and try it out. That’s even more valuable to him than praise.

Of course, he wants to know you are also noticing when he does well, so when the improvement comes, remember a word of praise will be doubly welcome!