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How to Dish Out Criticism to a Colleague Without Burning a Bridge


Dishing out criticism is easier said than done, especially when it’s to one of your peers. Here are a few things to consider before the big talk to ensure that your message is constructive rather than destructive.

Proper way to communicate criticism to peers

(Photo Credit: Anna Levinzon/Flickr)

You’ve probably been taught that if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. As a professional, however, having proper communication skills is key to a successful career, especially when you need to communicate criticism to a colleague. If (and when) you find yourself in this sticky situation, use the five tips below to help you communicate the right words the right way.

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1. Put yourself in his shoes.

Your goal is to get your message across without being offensive or callous, so try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see the situation from their perspective. Think about how you’d prefer to be approached, spoken to, and treated. Remember, you’ll attract more bees with honey than vinegar, so choose your words wisely.

2. Time is of the essence.

Whatever you do, don’t let the issues bottle up for too long or else it’s going to come out all at once and it won’t be pretty. Address issues sooner than later to avoid a potentially damaging situation that could negatively affect both of your careers/employment.

3. Behind closed doors.

There’s a wise saying that goes, “Praise in public, correct in private.” These words of wisdom should definitely be practiced when you’re providing constructive criticism to a colleague, because nothing good can come of public shaming. Take your matters behind closed doors where you can be respectful, but still get your point across. 

4. Be specific, not general.

An important thing to remember when having “the talk” is to be crystal clear about your reservations and provide specifics that will help the other person understand what needs to be changed. For instance, instead of saying, “You’re not pulling your weight around here,” which will seem like an attack, say something to the extend of, “It would be helpful if you could double-check your work before submitting it for final approval to ensure that there aren’t any errors you might have been overlooked the first time around.” You’re addressing the issue-at-hand without attacking the person or coming across as spiteful.

5. Dish out the bad with the good.

If you only communicate the bad, your colleague will probably not respond well. It’s wise to also incorporate what that person has done right and give credit where credit is due. The idea is to have that person walk away from the meeting more aware of where there’s room for improvement, not to beat him down to the point where he feels useless and incompetent. Being honest doesn’t mean you have to be harsh, so find a way to communicate the truth in an effective and productive manner.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you had to have “the talk” with one of your colleagues? Or, where you on the receiving end? If so, how did it go? Share your personal experience and any advice with our community on Twitter or in the comments section below.

Leah Arnold-Smeets
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I think society is too soft and namby pamby if your no good at your job then your no good and need to buck up or get out.

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