Article Summary:How to criticize employees tactfully and effectively.
One business situation that demands highly tuned communication skills is the delivery of criticism. If you are a sales manager with salespeople reporting to you, for example, you will at some time need to perform this unwelcome task. Here are a few ideas to help.
Criticize the behaviour, not the person
Don’t assign character traits to the person based on a single behaviour. For example, perhaps you have a couple of reps who are always late with their call reports, creating delays for your own reporting process. If you simply accuse them of irresponsibility and laziness, they may be sincerely baffled. Therefore, they won’t know what to do in response. How do you expect the fault to be corrected? How exactly does a person become more responsible in your eyes? Focusing on the need for timely reports, on the other hand, leaves no doubt as to what must change and avoids the appearance of a personal attack.
Don’t make comparisons
Resist the temptation to compare one salesperson’s record or habits with another’s. It’s annoying to be constantly told how well others do things, with the implication that your way somehow falls short. It’s much more effective to compare a rep’s performance against stated goals, or against your own expectations as a manager. This provides a specific goal to which he or she can aspire.
Enlist their help
Rather than simply pointing out the offending behaviour, explain the effect it is having on others or on the department, and ask for help in correcting the situation. You might say, for example, “When your call report is a couple of days late, as it has been for the past few months, I don’t have an opportunity to prepare my commentary in time for the management meeting, and that looks bad for our whole department. Any ideas on how we can keep on schedule with this?”
Carefully chosen language can increase your chance of success. Instead of telling them to come in early to finish the task, you might try this: “What if you come in half an hour early on the day the report is due? Would that give you enough time to finish it?” This is a reasonable question, and provides an opportunity for a discussion of alternatives.
Finally, one suggestion...
Balance criticism with praise when deserved. It’s demoralizing for your reps to feel they are noticed only when they have done something wrong.
...and one inviolable rule
While public praise is doubly sweet, always criticize in private. If the criticism takes place in private, the person can concentrate on what you want done to correct the problem. If other people are within hearing distance, though, the person will be focusing on their opinions instead of the question at hand. Embarrassing people in front of their peers is not the way to get the best out of them.
Criticism is sometimes necessary. Do it badly, and you antagonize an otherwise valued employee. Do it well, through good communication, and you will not only eliminate the unacceptable behaviour but may well cement your relationship with the employee.
Helen Wilkie is a professional keynote speaker, workshop leader and author specializing in applied communication. Read more articles on this and other communication subjects on her website at www.mhwcom.com. Subscribe to Helen's free monthly e-zine, "Communi-keys", and get your free 40-page e-book, 23 ideas you can use RIGHT NOW to communicate and succeed in your business career!