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How to Critique Your Employees (and Still Have Them Like You)

It’s uncomfortable.  Someone you work with made a boo-boo and you know you should say something to them.  I’ve found, faced with this situation, most people fall into one of these three categories:

(1)   You reprimand the person in a way that is inappropriate (yelling, temper tantrum, condescending, etc.)

(2)   You communicate the concern without being inappropriate, but it’s incredibly awkward.

(3)   You say nothing and the problem continues.

By the way, if you are able to realize that your approach is inappropriate, then congratulations are in order.  Many people who manage by yelling, etc. are completely unaware that they even do it.  However, the need to change your approach is even more critical; staff that feel belittled are far more likely to quit.

So how do you critique someone with whom you work and still have them like you?  The approach I’m about to offer works for any type of office relationship, whether the person in question is an assistant, hygienist, front desk personnel, associate, boss, whatever.

For a first-time offense, I like to use the Compliment Sandwich.  It’s a popular technique that effectively makes your criticism conversational and less awkward by surrounding it with positive feedback.

Here’s a scenario: your assistant just used a swear word in front of a patient and you’d like to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  After the patient has left, take the assistant aside and say:

Click on Image to Enlarge

Doesn’t that seem more pleasant?  In addition to the delicate negative feedback, you are acknowledging and reinforcing (positive feedback) one of Barbara’s more desirable behaviors.

If you are able to phrase the Critique portion of the Compliment Sandwich effectively, you may find you don’t even need the Compliment portions.  However I still enjoy the opportunity to acknowledge and reinforce the person’s deeds of which I’d like to see more.  Acknowledging when someone does something right is always more effective than pointing out the occasions when they do that same thing wrong.

The success of this approach will be determined by a few parameters:

(1)   The Compliment portions should be genuine.  If your positive reinforcement is hollow, your audience will switch off.

(2)   The overall encounter will be greatly improved if your Compliment portions are related to your Critique portion, as in the above example.  If your Critique portion is a complete non sequitur, it may become awkward as you stumble for transitions from and back to the Compliment portions.

(3)   If the Critique portion is a concern that has already been raised, dropping the Compliment portions will help the prevent the message from being diluted.

The Compliment Sandwich is a great technique to have in your leadership armamentarium.  It can help prevent critiques from becoming awkward or, worse yet, confrontational.

UPDATE: For a video of this technique, check out this post.


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