It's been said there's no such thing as constructive criticism, and that may be close to the truth. It's no easy task to criticize someone else's work without offending the worker. Yet every day managers have to find ways to critique the work of their employees. Here's how smart managers succeed at that task:
Use a good mix of positive and negative feedback. It's all too easy to focus only on problems and take no notice of parts of the job that are being done well. Successful managers are continually aware of the need to recognize good performance on a daily basis.
Build relationships between managers and employees. Managers who find a moment or two each day to say "How are you doing?" and visit with each employee will find it much easier to communicate about work problems. Just listening to employees talk about their families or outside interests can create the atmosphere needed to work out a problem.
Anxiety and fear create their own problems. Anxiety can prevent employees from really understanding what's expected of them. When tension is high, there will be more errors and accidents. If you want to be heard and understood, it's important to deliver criticism in a calm atmosphere. Managers who shout quickly lose their effectiveness.
Showing is better than telling. If you're talking about a problem in a report, get out the report and look at it together. If a customer writes a complaint, show the letter to the employee involved. With an example in front of you, there's a much better chance of clear communication.
Assume that workers will cooperate. Ask "How can we work this out?" or "What do we need to do to improve?" Starting with "Why did this happen?" will generally be perceived as an attack. Trying to decide who's at fault may also be nonproductive. Remember that the goal is to improve performance, not to assign blame or put someone on the spot.
Criticism generates negative reactions. If you have to be blunt to make your point, be prepared for negative responses. When put on the spot, most people get defensive. Listening for a few moments to what they have to say in their own defense will help to calm the situation and get to a point where communication is possible.
Building trust takes time. If things are tense today in your organization, it may be a matter of months, not days, before you can bring about the conditions necessary to communicate comfortably about work performance. And that includes listening to suggestions from employees about your performance.