Feedback isn’t always easy to hear or to receive. In a professional setting, I take it well when I’m hearing it, but there are times where I do take it too personally. I sometimes get upset even when I know that criticism is a good thing and typically results in making something (or someone) better. I experience this feeling often when it’s one peer to another, but in the workplace, criticism won’t solely be peer-to-peer.
Criticism between friends or colleagues is one thing, but criticism from an employee to their manager is a completely different ballgame. There is a different power dynamic between manager and employee compared with the relationship between co-workers.
What if I give criticism and my manager gets mad at me? What if I get in trouble? What if I get fired? Hopefully these aren’t serious concerns, because that would be a pretty significant indicator that you’re operating in a work environment that’s lacking in trust and undertanding. But even in the best of work relationships, those questions might creep up on you. It can also be difficult to provide criticism because you don’t want to hurt others’ feelings. So, whether you are an employee who has a difficult time providing feedback or are an employer looking to make it easier for your employees to provide criticism, here are some useful suggestions.
For any employee providing criticism
We know that it can be difficult to give criticism in general and the power dynamic in an employee/supervisor relationship can make it even more difficult to flip the conversation. In other words, employees know it’s part of their job to receive feedback, but giving feedback seems like, well, not part of the job. So how can an employee give criticism without having to worry about potential negative reactions or consequences?
The first thing to keep in mind is that your manager/supervisor is human, just like you. Even if you’re not always the best at receiving criticism, there’s more than a good chance that your manager may feel the same way. Of course, they won’t (or shouldn’t) be unprofessional, but be patient and give your manager some time to absorb the criticism. They have become a manager through hard work and years in the workforce, so they’ve been in your shoes and they know that providing and listening to feedback isn’t always easy.
Secondly, remember that there’s a difference between criticism and constructive criticism. If you’re just aiming to pick on someone, stop it. If you’re aiming to improve a situation, think about the information that you need to share so your supervisor will undertand what you’re talking about. Provice clarity proactively. Expressing a concern about what happened “that one time” might not be as helpful in clearly painting the picture with relevant details and specifics. Then, consider how this situation can be improved. What’s the best possible outcome? Most people don’t intentionally do things to upset you or to mess things up. We all make mistakes, but sometimes we don’t even notice their impact. When someone else comes along and helps us to understand our blind spots, that’s an opportunity to improve. Based on how the conversation goes, offer suggestions about how you think the situation can be improved. Don’t highlight problems without shining some light on solutions.
Next, make sure that you’re presenting your feedback in a considerate manner. Words are powerful, so make sure you utilize them correctly. Is this really something that happens “all the time” or was it actually just once or twice? Get the point across but don’t over-do it or add in too many extras. In a stressful situation, it’s easy to get flustered or riled up, but focus on clear communication and leave out unrelated concerns, uwarranted accusations, and emotionally charged statemetns in general. You don’t want to hurt their feelings or misrepresent something, so really take time to think about how you are going to address the situation to resolve the issue.
Lastly, don’t expect them to react negatively. If you are worried about the worst possible scenario, remember that it’s just that: the worst possible scenario. The worst possible scenario almost never happens, and your manager is a professional. So even if they are upset by the criticism, they are not going to lash out at you. Hopefully your goal is to improve a challenging situation or to resolve a problem — not to give someone a hard time unnecessarily — so focus on what you’re hoping to achieve.
For any manager receiving criticism
It’s rarely easy to receive criticism. Always remember that the criticism coming from one of your employees is a great thing, whether that employee just joined the organization or has been with the company for years. If the employee just joined, their criticism is especially useful because the employee is providing an outside perspective. For employees who have been in the organization for a while, they know the ins and outs of the organization’s processes. This means that they can have a more holistic view for their criticism.
Think about the scientific research process. Whenever a new study or action is completed, it needs to confirmed and peer reviewed before it’s published, and the peer-review process is hardly a rubber stamp. Nobody in the scientific community is getting an A for effort. Just showing up doesn’t count — the conclusions must be solid and the data must be unquestionably strong. While most of us don’t face this kind of rigorous review of our daily work and behavior, knowing that you belong to a community of peers who can serve as critical friends should be seen as a positive. You may feel that “critics” are out to get you, but true “critical friends” are there to help you and your work get better. Embrace the opportunity.
Constructive feedback comes from a good place, so make sure to keep that in mind whenever you are providing or receiving criticism. Sharing constructive feedback to your supervisor can be difficult, but remember that they hired you because they want your input as much as everything else, so provide it!