Last blog talked about how to reframe your role as performance manager so that you are critiquing vs. criticizing. This helps you remember the personal investment that people make in their work. Leaders often say, “don’t take it personally” when confronted with the dismay of the criticized. More often they are too busy to see how hard their words have landed. Critiquing, instead of forcing people to disengage from their work, allows you to acknowledge their personal pride.
How would this way of critiquing change the delivery of corrective feedback? If you are critiquing someone’s report, or slide deck, or customer pitch, you wouldn’t simply slash red edits throughout. Before even getting near the details, you’d discuss the impact of the work on you. You’d ask questions about the intended impact from the author. You’d say, “Is this what you meant the recipient to get?” You’d explore the fundamental principles of great work in your field. You’d share previous failures you’ve experienced, and what they taught you. You’d ask permission before rewriting or adding details. Basically, you’d show an interest in the work while respecting the person who created it.
Follow these three steps to conduct a critique:
Ask questions for clarity. This isn’t the same as grilling someone with “why’d you do that?” Instead, be curious and try to understand what the other person was thinking. Don’t make assumptions that they didn’t consider the important factors – find out what they did consider. Become aware of what they see – and what they don’t see.
Talk about the strengths. Acknowledge sound thinking. In the work itself, notice what is done well and what you like. This is not false praise. If there is something that is good and needs just a tweak to be excellent, offer your expert suggestion lightly. Don’t forget to notice effort, for some situations just getting started is the biggest hurdle (ask a writer). Encourage initiative and effort as well as delivery.
Offer challenges and new perspective. Assume that both of you want what’s best. Use your discernment to gauge how many challenges to provide. Don’t dump all of your critical thoughts. Sort through which will give the most value to the work and to the development of future work. Say, “Have you thought about this?” or “I’d like to point out some places where I’d make adjustments. Are you interested?” Link what you are offering to what you’ve learned in steps 1 and 2.
Critiquing doesn’t take any more time than criticising. Stop wasting time pointing out errors and redoing your team’s work. Stop showing how brilliant you are. Instead, show deep interest in the work of your team, without taking accountability away from them. They’ll thank you for it.