If you have ever had an employee need harsh criticism, you know just how difficult a task it can be. Most people don’t like to dish out criticism, which is a good thing, but as entrepreneurs, there is sometimes no way around it. But there is a right way and a wrong way to give harsh criticism to employees. And your mission is to make doing it the right way a priority!
If you give harsh criticism, or any criticism, in an appropriate manner, you will likely help create a better employee. Give it the wrong way, and you may see that employee retaliate or walk out the door. Neither of these are scenarios are what you probably want, so focus on learning how to effectively give criticism, so you avoid offending them.
Keep these tips in mind when it comes to giving harsh criticism to an employee:
1. Before you give the criticism, explain that you are sharing it with them because you care about them.
2. Pat on the back, kick on the ass, pat on the back. This is what I learned from my college lacrosse coach. Whenever he wanted to correct a mistake, he would first say what I did right (the pat on the back), then he would point out what I messed up on and needed to fix (the kick in the ass), and then he would tell me how well I was progressing and to keep pushing on (the pat on the back). This sandwiching technique works because it softens the criticism and leaves you inspired to fix it.
3. Never criticize the person, only criticize the act. You never want to make it personal. For example, don’t say something like “I don’t like it when you…” Instead, say “On those occasions when it is said…”
4. Always criticize privately. This is just a common courtesy. You wouldn’t want someone to criticize you in front of others. No matter how nice you try to do it, you will still put that person on defense and risk humiliating them, so it’s just best to avoid it all together.
5. Let them save face! This isn’t about them agreeing that they messed up; it’s about correcting the behavior (or at least that is what it should be about). If you attack them, they need to go on defense. And part of any good defense is justification to keep doing the behavior. So give them an out, so they can have an “excuse” for the past behavior (save face), but they do not have an excuse to continue. A great way to help them save face is to say something like “I bet you are not even aware of this, since I used to do the same thing and did not even know.” If they acknowledge they were not aware, they have saved face. And now, since they are aware, they can’t continue with the behavior.
The Right Course
When giving an employee criticism is not done correctly, it can seem mean-spirited, feel like a personal attack, or just make them angry. When it is handled the right way, it can help improve situations and behavior, inspire change, and start a conversation about what is going on. It is important, as well, to make sure that when you give criticism, you aren’t just venting frustrations or trying to boost your ego, that it really is to improve a situation.
Even if you don’t have an employee right now that needs some criticism, you may in the future. It’s always a good idea to make sure you know the right way to handle the situation. That is part of what makes great leaders, well, great!