The art of constructive criticism

Although not always easy to formulate, criticism, when it is constructive, lets your colleagues know aspects of their work that they could improve. For constructive criticism, the keywords are trust, preparation and collaboration.

“There is not enough business feedback, although employees are eager to have it,” says Laure Cohen, management coach and founder of SmartCoaching. While positive feedback is often easier to formulate than negative, they are both very important. Yet lack of time or fear of confrontation sometimes makes it difficult to express observations to colleagues. What are the winning conditions for expressing constructive criticism?

 Instill a climate of trust 

According to Laure Cohen, regardless of the approach adopted, a climate of trust is the cornerstone of constructive criticism. “When feedback is being given, people are often on the defensive. This is a sign that a climate of trust has not been achieved to allow us to speak freely about an improvement,” explains the coach. To get there, it is necessary to have established a sense of safety, cohesion and complicity.

 Moreover, the atmosphere of the conversation will play an essential role. Sometimes, in a hurry to solve problems, there is a rush to call out, “Step into my office, I have something to say to you!” However, to express constructive criticism, the way it starts counts for a great deal… Laure Cohen suggests several questions to ask the other person before getting to the heart of the matter: are you ready to receive some comments? Are you ready to talk about it? What would be the right time to discuss it?

 Prepare well 

“We don’t give heated feedback, it’s essential to take a step back,” notes the coach, insisting that preparation is key to a discussion with constructive criticism. Taking the time to reflect on what is to be said is essential to properly formulate your thoughts and not get carried away. “It’s essential to use precise words, not beating around the bush,” she adds. Without necessarily writing a speech in advance, the best is to have a clear intention before the discussion.

 As for the known “sandwich” technique, which consists of placing your criticism between two positive remarks, Laure Cohen considers that it is too simplistic. However, she acknowledges that seeking positive items is necessary to formulate a good critique: “Finding things that are going well helps counterbalance negative judgement.”

 Collaboration and feedforward

It’s no use criticizing for the sake of criticizing. The goal must always be to find a way to improve the situation. “Feedback is co-development”, adds Laure Cohen. “I can have a solution all ready in my head, which would be good, but I will not bring it out straight away before first hearing the proposals of the other person.”

 The coach speaks more readily of the feedforward technique, an approach which consists of projecting into the future, instead of returning to the past. “If everyone is working in this direction, then there is an organizational culture that sets in and which creates wealth in the enterprise,” she explains.

 Obviously, receiving criticism, even constructive, is never easy. But if all the conditions are met, this feedback will certainly allow for progress…

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