A critical approach to management

It's tricky pointing out flaws in someone's work or bringing them to account, and few of us are good at it. In fact many managers in a wide range of organisations and industries view the task of criticising others or giving negative feedback as one of the most distressing and stressful tasks they have to do. But unfortunately, a reluctance to deliver negative feedback can prove costly when the situation spirals out of control. Although many employers don't do a very effective job of delivering criticism, there are ways to do it that benefit both the employer and the employee. Handled right it can strengthen relationships as well as performance.

Prepare in advance Before starting to criticise someone, ask yourself why you are doing it. If your answer is "to help this person improve", proceed. If it is anything else stop right there. Doing it to get back at someone, or because you don't like them is not a valid reason. If you are going to deliver negative feedback, be sure you have concrete examples at your fingertips. Arrive armed with all the facts and have a positive solution to counter the negative. "People exposed to destructive criticism tend to suffer reduced confidence in their ability to perform various tasks, lowered motivation and feelings of anger. When delivering the bad news try to do so through compromise or collaboration, rather than by getting angry," says Robert Baron, author of Effective Criticism Made Easy.

Choose the right time Do not engage in criticism when you are emotionally upset or under stress. Making calm and rational remarks is something that's almost impossible to do when you are not in the right frame of mind. Criticising people before others is also never appropriate. "The golden rule is to compliment in public, criticise in private," says Jane Boucher, author of How to Love the Job You Hate. "Stay calm and avoid negative criticism – it damages self-esteem, productivity and attitude, and is top of the 'Why you hate your job list,'" she adds.

Keep it positive Remember that feedback is not about insulting someone's behaviour; it's about telling him or her how to be better. Maintain eye contact, modulate your voice and avoid "shoulds" and "musts". Criticise the action or behaviour, not the person – be clear and precise, giving specific detail. Vague accusations evoke hostility. "Praise the person for something positive they've done, move on to the criticism and top it off with another positive about their performance, or about how important their input is to the department or company," say Alan and Pease author of Easy Peasey: People Skills for Life. See it as teaching someone rather than telling them off. Instead of telling them they rushed a presentation, Boucher suggests a problem, solving approach: "Tell them how they could have improved. Suggest ways to help such as training." Admit you've made similar mistakes. Acknowledging you're less than perfect can encourage empathy and make your colleague more receptive to what you have to say.

Close on a warm note Thank them for their co-operation in solving the problem and tell them you look forward to seeing them deal with things in the ways you've discussed. "Concentrate on where we go from here and on what specific steps can be taken to improve the recipient's performance. Remember: helping others to improve is the key goal. It makes more sense to formulate concrete plans for change than go over old ground," says Baron.


The right attitude

Having a positive attitude is an important component of businesses productivity

- Treat people with kindness and respect. Everyone that you encounter should be valued and treated with courtesy

- Take responsibility for your work, actions and life. Don't pass the buck. Don't make excuses. Take responsibility

- Enjoy the little things that happen in the office. By recognising your accomplishments you are acknowledging a job well done 

- Instill positive attitudes in others. Be the role model for your negative colleagues through your actions and behaviour