How do you handle it when you’re working with someone who could benefit from constructive criticism? Do you step up and do what’s necessary even though it may be uncomfortable or do you wait and hope someone else will take the initiative? If you’re like most people, you’ll choose the latter option and miss an opportunity to develop the courage that you need to be a truly successful leader.
What if you want to develop your managerial fortitude—how do you do it? First, make sure you’re the right person to carry the message. Sometimes your position in relation to the other person can make it nearly impossible for your message to be heard accurately due to preconceived notions (e.g., an office manager commenting to an SVP on business content, etc.). If you’re in that situation, the risk is too high for you so my advice is to not raise any issues. If you are the right person—a peer speaking to a peer, or a manager speaking to a subordinate, etc.—it’s important to plan your content and anticipate responses.
The most important step you can take (regardless of the content) is to make sure it’s clear that your intent is to be helpful. Ask for permission to proceed so that other person feels a sense of control. Start with explaining how the person will benefit from your feedback. It might sound something like this: “Julie, I always hope others will let me know when I’m doing things the hard way and I thought you might feel the same way. During our work on Project X I’ve noticed a few ways that may make it easier to make progress. Would you like to hear my feedback?”
Provide your feedback using specific examples and a neutral tone, and make sure the implications of not changing are well understood. Put your comments in context so that your listener can replay the scenario in their head. Continuing with our example above, it could sound like this: “Great! I noticed when you were going over the plan of action for Project X the language you were using wasn’t very specific. One specific example I remember is when you said, ‘We’ll need to inform both the leadership team and the customer service groups, which is a good role for your teams, Rhonda and Jeff.’ Since we’re on such a tight timeline and working virtually, it might be more helpful to say something like ‘Rhonda and Jeff, I think a good role for your teams is to inform both the leadership team and customer service groups. Who specifically do you want to carry the ball on each of these tasks?’ Getting a clear commitment in our group meeting and having an ‘owner’ identified will avoid double work—or God forbid, no work!—on such an important piece of the project.”
Don’t belabor your point; if Julie understands, move on. A gracious and very productive way to end your conversation is to ask that if they see things you could do better you’d appreciate it if they’d let you know. Most people want feedback and never get it.