How to give constructive criticism

By Simon Buehring on 25 Feb 2019

How to give a constructive criticism sandwitch - infographic

As a project manager, you have probably had to provide criticism to a team member before. It can be awkward, especially if that colleague normally performs well or you get on with them. However, there’s several techniques you can use to provide more constructive criticism. One is the 'constructive criticism sandwich'.

Read on and learn this deliciously important skill. Before you do, we’ve created a nice little graphic. If you like it, please link back to this page.

The 'constructive criticism sandwich'

As a project manager, soft skills are all too important if you are going to get the most out of your team. Many project management courses are simply not long enough to adequately cover all the soft skills which people need in a project manager role, so let’s take a look at how to give criticism in a positive way.

Humans naturally focus on the negative more than the positive. Sometimes if we get criticised, the negativity can de-motivate us and mask over any positive aspects of our performance. We then feel bad about ourselves and feel like we can’t do anything right. Therefore, when giving feedback to a staff member it is important to remind them why they are valued in the first place, this is where the constructive criticism sandwich technique comes into play.

Some managers may dismiss the idea of a criticism sandwich, suggesting that it is an easy way of giving negative feedback by concealing it in positivity. Obviously, every manager has their own technique, but I feel that an empathetic relationship and positive atmosphere between management and their team can further boost performance.

Ingredients for your constructive criticism sandwich (to be eaten in this order)

Soft, fluffy bread

It’s not strictly true that you are trying to soften the blow here, but just begin on a positive note. Bring up the situation that you would like to talk to the employee about and state some positive comments about their performance in that situation.

Mixed salad

  • Point out the employee's strong points that they use within their role and compliment them.
  • Don’t do this for the sake of doing it, be honest - think of the reason they were employed in the first place, remind them of why they are valued in this position

The heavy meaty part

  • Now this is where you give the constructive criticism.
  • Be straight to the point, state why this behaviour is not acceptable or up to standard and why it is important that they improve.
  • Tell them how the company will benefit from their improvement.

The lighter meaty part

  • Remind the employee again of their strong points, motivate them and reassure them that you are confident that they can improve in their role.
  • You are not trying to mask over the criticism but offering support and motivation.

Soft, fluffy bread

  • This is when you bring your sandwich to a close and put the lid on it!
  • Thank your employee for their contribution to the team.
  • Tell them how you will help them to improve their performance.
  • Give clear action points of your expectations and set dates for performance reviews.

Finally …

Hopefully after receiving their criticism sandwich your employee will be feeling energised, positive and ready to work on the action plan. Take a look at the infographic above for a tasty, visualised version of the constructive criticism sandwich.

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