The Tricky Business of Delivering Criticism in the Workplace

November 20, 2017

Solving problems at work requires candid critiques, but employees sometimes hesitate to criticize colleagues for fear of causing conflict, hurting feelings or being seen as a jerk.

Michael Roberto, a management professor at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., told The Wall Street Journal that face-to-face disagreements force managers and employees to rethink their assumptions and make better decisions.

Just remember that “you’re on the same team and … trying to strengthen each other’s argument, not win the argument,” he said. Get to know your colleagues and learn who can handle blunt criticism and who needs a gentler approach.

Bosses who want feedback have to ask for and welcome it, and then listen carefully — even when they disagree, said Kim Scott, author of the book “Radical Candor,” about giving honest opinions at work.

Don’t turn criticism into a personal attack, she said. Achim Nowak, an executive coach in Hollywood, Fla., recommends asking for permission before offering a critique. “Instead of pouncing on the person, say, ‘I have a couple of thoughts I’d like to share with you. Is this a good time?’”

When delivering criticism, don’t shout or be rude, experts said. Never belittle, embarrass or scare colleagues.  Avoid repeating yourself, and don’t try to cushion criticism with insincere praise. Give feedback in person, not electronically. Show compassion and humility. Ask questions to understand the other person’s point of view, and stress that you want to help. — Greg Beaubien


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