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Published: Tuesday, 8/29/2006

Spin City

If no one ever pointed out mistakes or showed where there could be room for improvement, nothing would ever improve.

Tough as it can be to hear, criticism, or feedback, is essential in every relationship, especially those in the workplace. Since nobody s perfect everybody needs to know what he or she could be doing more effectively.

There is a right and a wrong way to deliver the bad news, however. Some even claim that delivering criticism takes such skill and talent; it s an art form.

If criticism is not delivered appropriately and effectively, the process not only makes a person feel defensive, it can also be hurtful and discouraging, says Stephen Kohn, MBA professor at Long Island University, and President and CEO of Work & People Solutions, Inc., a human resources management consulting firm based in White Plains, NY. A negative encounter is likely to make the criticized person feel angry, anxious, depressed or all of the above.

That s why Kohn and co-author Vincent D. O Connell, dedicated an entire chapter of their new book, 6 Habits of Highly Effective Bosses (CareerPress, Inc.), to teach managers artful criticism. Kohn says the negative experiences employees have with managers who haven t learned this art form experience the emotional fallout of criticism.

Managers can control this by learning superior people skills, he says.

One way to soften the blow is by using the people skill Kohn refers to in the book as The Sandwich Technique.

The Sandwich Technique involves sandwiching the bad news between positive or upbeat statements, says Kohn. If you incorporate this fundamental technique into your managerial repertoire, you are bound to be more effective at delivering corrective criticism to those you are supervising.

Kohn says The Sandwich Technique is based on three principles. Never begin an interaction with a negative statement the opening must always be positive. The corrective criticism is then shared, but should never be the final statement. Then, says Kohn, the final slice of the sandwich is put in place. The final statement must always be positive and affirming. In this way, the message is cushioned.

Vicki Hersh has served as Education & Faculty Manager for Scottsdale, AZ based WorldatWork for the past seven years and while she might accept the principles of criticism-giving methods like The Sandwich Technique, she takes issue with the language.

It s important to consider the term criticism and understand that it typically has a negative connotation. When evaluating performance, says Hersh, the preferred term is feedback. Hersh agrees that whatever it s called, it s vital as long as there s a solid structure to support it. Paired with an action plan, feedback can be a very powerful tool for enhancing job performance, and providing personal and professional development.

Hersh remembers a particularly effective method used by one of her former managers. The best form of constructive criticism I encountered in my career came from a manager who used the 3-2-1 approach to providing feedback. She would tell me three things I need to keep doing, two things I should start doing, and one thing I should stop doing. Hersh says this only helped her do her best. Taking this approach ensured I would receive the feedback I needed to perform my job well.

Giving the feedback in a positive, constructive way is only half the battle, however, according to Kohn.

The importance of follow-up is crucial, he says. The most effective way to mitigate the sting of criticism is to observe when the employee has heeded the message about performance management, and then be generous with praise for work well done. Kohn says, Follow up is key because it lets the employee know you care and are concerned about them and their work.

Chicago-area editor Justin Nevin has experienced lots of different styles of critical communication and says that the bosses who take the time to remain positive have been the most effective at getting their message across.

I think it only helps the company as a whole when employees are treated with respect, he says. When people like who they work for and can learn from mistakes and not be made to feel embarrassed about them, they stick around. Nevin says that a place where an employee can grow is a great place to work.

Hersh echoes this point, adding, Employee turnover is a huge cost for any company. Teaching managers to effectively communicate feedback of all types is a way to develop and retain talented workers, and ultimately contribute in a positive way to the company s bottom line.

Seminars, coaching, and workshops are all possibilities if you re looking to improve you or your company s feedback communication skills. According to Kohn, it could be a wise investment. People leave their jobs because they don t like their boss, he says. A contributing factor is that the management/employee relationship is damaged due to the style the boss uses when criticizing an employee.

If you re the lucky guy or gal who has to deliver the bad news er, feedback, on a regular basis, check your methods. Learning the art of criticism could be the key to a much smoother message.

By Mary Fons

CTW Features

Copyright CTW Features



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