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How to Give Criticism

Question:  One of the hardest parts of an account manager’s job is that you are constantly put in situations where you must deliver criticism.  How can you do this without alienating someone or doing damage to the relationship?

Answer:  First, you need to be absolutely positive that criticism is the most appropriate response from you to the person or situation.  This means that you are confident that not only are you right, but that not criticizing will be detrimental to the situation.

That said, here are some “guidelines” I use when I need to offer criticism:

  • Certainly the criticism should be offered as positively and constructively as possible.  Point out how it could have been done better, rather than how poorly it was done.
  • Be straightforward.  It’s okay to point out the ramification of the actions/behavior that earned the criticism.  The objective is for the person being criticized to know how they should have been done and why.
  • Present the criticism directly to the person who needs to be criticized, not to his boss, colleagues or subordinates.  Hearing criticism first-hand is not only more effective, it prevents the one being criticized from hearing it from a third party and inferring that it’s worse than it actually is.

  • Present the criticism alone, one-on-one, not in front of anyone else.  In addition to the obvious reason not to cause unnecessary embarrassment, a face-to-face conversation will lead to a more productive discussion and learning experience.

  • Last and probably most important of all is the compassion with which you deliver the criticism.  It’s important that you communicate that your objective is to improve the situation and for learning, not to demean or to vent.  Talk to the person the way you would want to be talked to and don’t be afraid to let them know that you learned from constructive criticism, the very way that they are now.

And one final thing – avoid words like “jerk,” “idiot,” “knucklehead” and “if you do this once more, you’re fired.”  Saying those things will undoubtedly hurt your credibility.



Bruce Kelley

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