Making Constructive Criticism Effective

LCT Staff
Posted on June 1, 2002

It?s my way or the highway.? ?There are three ways to do things: the right way, the wrong way and my way.? Ever heard these statements? Perhaps you?re guilty of uttering them to your employees on occasion. Chances are good they didn?t have the desired effects.

Times are tight. Most managers are focusing their attention only on ways to increase profits and decrease costs. However, in this difficult economy, when this method is easier said than done, it?s tempting to take out your frustrations on your employees when things don?t go as well as you?d like.

Doing so affects how your employees view their jobs, which in turn affects how they treat your customers. Coming in to work only to be yelled at puts an employee in a bad mood. In this service-oriented industry, you can?t afford to send disgruntled, unhappy chauffeurs out to pick up clients. Nor can you afford to have bitter reservationists answering questions and handling complaints. (They may agree with what they hear!) Their negative attitudes will certainly come out in every aspect of their job. You can kiss your repeat business good-bye!

?Criticism is part of training,? explains Larry Price of Price Limousine & Transportation in San Antonio. ?You have to train people and explain why things need to be done a certain way.? Offering constructive criticism to your employees ensures that you and your staff are on the same track, striving for the same goal. What?s important is that you offer criticism without alienating the people who ultimately make your business successful: your employees.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when criticizing becomes necessary.

Think About What to Say Before You Say It Get your thoughts in order before offering criticism. Gathering your thoughts and feelings about the situation allows you to stay focused on the problem at hand and ensures that you cover everything without forgetting important points. If you think you might forget something, make a list of things you want to cover.

Offer Criticism When It Is Relevant, Not Weeks Later Don?t let time lapse between a situation?s occurrence and speaking with an employee about the problem. If confronted initially, an employee remembers the situation more accurately and can better understand the criticism with the incident still fresh in his mind.

If something bothers you and you neglect to discuss it at the time, other things may begin to affect the situation that normally would not. Likewise, the situation will continue to grow, and you are more apt to ?blow up? at the slightest incident. This undermines your position as well as the initial criticism ? which was probably a valid one.

Ask Permission to Criticize Unsolicited advice is about as pleasant as being stuck in traffic with no alternate route; you know what?s ahead and there?s no possible way to avoid it. So what do you do? You feel angry about it and are thankful when it?s over. Ask before giving your opinions about the situation. ?Would you mind if I offer a few suggestions that might improve our call productivity?? This lets the employee know what the ultimate goal is, as well as promotes the message that you are all working together. It also allows you to determine if perhaps an employee tried your suggestions, but was unsuccessful, in which case you can develop a successful solution together.

Know the Proper Time and Place for Criticism Not only is it embarrassing for the employee to be reprimanded in front of his peers, but it?s uncomfortable for other workers to witness the encounter. In private, the employee is more likely to open up about the problem. In public, the employee is more concerned with keeping his dignity in front of other people than hearing what you have to say. Remember: criticize in private, praise in public.

Sandwich the Negative Between Two Positives Always deliver bad remarks with two counts of good. Let the employee know where he is exceeding your expectations before letting him know where improvements need to be made. Close by letting the employee know at what other aspects of his job he is performing well. Remind him that you are confident of his potential for success at the company and you are committed to ensuring it.

?You always follow up something negative with something positive,? Price says. ?Give the employee negative feedback and turn right around and say, ?But in this area you are really strong and doing a great job.??

Criticize Behavior, Not a Person Know the difference between criticizing what a person has done and actually criticizing that person. Criticizing a person will put him on the defensive very quickly, and your points will not only be ignored, they will be resented.

?If a guy doesn?t quite wear the right suit, you don?t go up and say, ?Your suit is outdated.? You say, ?I like your suit, but what we?d like to do is present this image,? and give a reason,? Price explains.

Be Specific in Your Dialogue Telling an employee that he ?lacks focus? really does no good. Avoid such general labels as ?impatient,? ?unmotivated,? or ?careless.? They are attacks on character and only leave the person to guess what the true problem is. If the problem is a chauffeur?s lack of consideration for customer comfort, let him or her know.

Keep it Simple Avoid overwhelming the employee by discussing too many things at one time. Gauge his reactions, and be aware of when you should restate your point, ask for reactions or move on to something else.

Don?t Criticize Just for Criticism?s Sake In other words, offer a few solutions to how the problem can be resolved. These solutions don?t have to be the exact answers, but they should offer the employee an idea of what you?re seeking and why the present situation will not meet that goal.

Price suggests having a written plan at the end of the meeting. ?People can say they need to improve, but if they don?t outline how they?re going to improve and start a plan, they?re not going to. It gives us a plan, rather than having people say, ?yeah, I understand,? and then just walking out.?

Open the Discussion Up Ask the employee for comments or questions about what you?ve discussed and if there is anything you can do to help any further. It?s important not to ... for more information on this topic, see the June issue of LCT magazine.

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