Giving Critical Feedback through Artful Critiques

As we administer and report on 360-degree feedback surveys, we notice that participants and their managers naturally focus on the negative feedback from 360 results. This focus on the negative often leads to follow-up criticism that attempts to address the negative results. Such criticism, and especially the way it is delivered, can either make or break an employees’ motivation.
What is the best method for giving redirecting feedback? How can we express criticism without triggering frustration or defensive responses? How can we give critical feedback while carefully maintaining employee motivation?
The key to maintaining motivation is to depersonalize the criticism. Focus on the behavior and not the person or judgments of the person’s character. Consider giving an artful critique, coined by Harry Levinson, which focuses on what the person has done or can do in the future to avoid delivering a personal attack on the nature of the individual. Levinson offers the following four steps for artful critiques:

  1. Be specific. Pinpoint an incident that demonstrates the problem that needs changing. Avoid making general statements about an individual’s behaviors.
  2. Offer a solution. The artful critique, like all good feedback, should offer a suggestion for fixing the problem; otherwise, the recipient is left feeling frustrated, angry, and stuck.
  3. Be present. Just like praise, critiques are most effective when given face to face and in private. When given any other way, the communication is too impersonal and is at greater risk of being misunderstood.
  4. Be sensitive. Understand the impact that corrective words can have on the recipient and be sure to focus on being empathetic and sensitive in giving criticism.

Certainly, the way criticism is given goes a long way in determining how satisfied people are with their work and how motivated they will be to improve and progress. Ultimately, giving artful critiques can improve the employee engagement in your organization.
What have you experienced when giving redirecting feedback? How is criticism given in your organization? What are the negative or positive effects of the criticism?
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