how to give constructive criticism at work

If you’re like a lot of people, having to tell someone their work isn’t good enough can feel awkward, even when the feedback is necessary and constructive — and even if you’re a manager whose job it is to have those conversations. But if you approach it in the right way, asking for changes to someone’s work doesn’t have to be unpleasant for either of you.

At New York Magazine today, I wrote about how to give feedback on a colleague’s work without making it awkward. Head over there to read it.

{ 67 comments… read them below }

  1. tinaturner*

    “This is what works w/him for me” is a way to remind her that the “target” you want to reach may have a personality, or quirks. And it’s just one tactic but it claims to get results.
    It focuses on the language or communication method, etc., they respond to. So it’s about h m and not about the person you’re advising here.
    It’s about finding the “key” to this guy, not finding the key to the advisee’s entire career and demanding she change it all.
    If she needs to change her entire POV / approach, that’s harder. But sometimes changing w/one person will lead to using that tactic on others. If it gets results.

  2. lime*

    This is great advice! This is like… everything I’m missing from my current workplace. Going off of that, any tips on how to elicit feedback like this when you work in a very anti-feedback culture? I work in a creative role, so I’m very used to giving/receiving feedback of this nature and welcome feedback because it helps make my final deliverables better. However, my current workplace is a culture where everyone is expected to just say “yes, this is great!” even when something is clearly not a great idea or when there are obvious improvements that need to be made.

    1. Ex-Teacher*

      You can try changing *how* you ask for feedback. Instead of asking “What do you think?”, ask “What would you change about X?” or “How do you think Joanie will respond to Y?” or “Do you think Z could d a better job of conveying the message?”

      Instead of being broad, ask about specific aspects of the work product. It’s a lot harder for someone to simply say “yes everything is great” when you ask a specific question about a specific part of the product.

      1. ferrina*

        Exactly this.

        I’ve also had success changing the tone of the discussions. Often people get used to giving neutral/”it’s fine” feedback because they don’t want to hurt feelings. I’m an emotive person, so I get excited about ripping my work to shreds. I position my version as a “draft” and make clear that I expect my reviewer to point out flaws. I’m eager to hear what I missed and get visibly excited about finding the weak points. I think some people think that if they don’t find something wrong, they’ll let me down. I like to say “This is my initial draft, but obviously you have different expertise, which is why I want to borrow your brain. What am I not thinking of? How do we make this stronger?”

    2. Betty*

      “Can we try to pick holes in this? If this project fails, what are the most likely reasons why?/If we got pushback from stakeholders, what do we think they’d be concerned about?”

    3. PotsPansTeapots*

      I’d maybe explain a bit of your thought process or challenges you had. Model the feedback you’d like to see. i.e.

      “I had a few thoughts about how to convey X without overselling it. I settled on choices Y and Z, but I need another opinion because I think I might be too cautious.”

    4. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      Generally when I get a “looks good” response to a proof, it’s because they really haven’t proofed it at all, so I start to ask more specific questions that prods them to take a closer look and that sometimes helps start the feedback process:
      Are all of the names and titles correct? X doesn’t really seem consistent with the rest of the content.
      Is there any missing information or is anything difficult to read or understand?
      Have XYZ details been confirmed?
      Does this color/photo/text represent the brand/product/person accurately?
      Does anyone else need to see this before it prints or goes live? Sometimes a “looks good” is because they aren’t really the decision-maker.

  3. Penguin*

    So important to be specific! Take the time to articulate what you want/need from a project or task and the standards. It also makes the feedback feel way less personal (which is extra important when the work is subjective). Vagueness drives me up a wall when then I have to try to suss out what actually needs to change.

    1. ceiswyn*

      And don’t forget, “Do not schedule the feedback conversation as a meeting without a subject. Unless you really want your employee to spend the day panicking that they’re about to be fired, and then be so relieved when they find out what it’s about that they take nothing in”.

        1. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

          You’re hitting the REPLY button attached to the post instead of filling out the New Comment form at the bottom

        2. BuildMeUp*

          It’s either what Telephone Sanitizer said, or I have also noticed that if I start to reply to a comment (or accidentally hit the reply button) and then hit cancel, even if I enter a comment in the correct box at the bottom, it still sometimes shows up in the place I originally hit reply. To avoid this, I just refresh the page before posting a new comment.

    2. Lacey*

      Yes, I loved where she explained that “this needs to be more polished” will not mean the same thing to everyone.

      And, it’s also helpful because if you’re not sure what you mean – you have to clarify your expectations in your own head.

      I had a manager who would throw around vague phrases & be totally unable to explain what she meant. Unsurprisingly, everyone in our department was frustrated.

  4. Palliser*

    This is something I would like to do better. I had an incident last year where a junior colleague really wanted to design a logo for our biggest brand. Previously we had worked with a professional graphic designer for this purpose, but the colleague was now in a position where she was more generally in charge of branding. She kept sending design-after-design and all of them needed refinement. I tried to get us narrowed down to a few ideas, but it was really frustrating for both of us. Ultimately, I told her that we needed to hand her ideas to the outside graphic designer for final polish but she was pretty upset about it. She handled it professionally, but felt I was taking away something she cared about without giving her the feedback she needed to improve. I told her that as I’m not a professional graphic designer, I couldn’t give her very specific tips, but I knew what she had produced needed…something. I’m confident in my assessement, and the graphic designer did improve on the designs and it was the right thing for the business. But I hated being a dream-killer, and would love to set better expecations and improve the process for the next iteration of this project. We have moved on and have a great relationship overall, if that give further useful context.

    1. Link*

      Honestly, I don’t see if you could have handled that better. You knew enough that something was off, but lacked the full expertise to determine precisely what, and told her as much. Without you knowing what needed to be done and to use that knowledge to guide her to that point, all that could be done was to hand it off to an outside source for final polishing.

      If you are actually her manager, you could set up a resource for her, such as an outside source or course to further increase her skills to do that refinement on her own in the future, budget pending of course.

    2. BellyButton*

      I think you did fine. I would focus on the positive- she had the idea/concept/vision- but needed the professional to polish it. I think that is a great thing! I have decent design skills, and do exactly that process. I conceptualize what I want, why I want it, the intended audience then I turn it over to the professional to make it– uh, professional :)

    3. Box of Kittens*

      I agree with the commenters above – I feel like you handled this well. You don’t mention whether you had the graphic designer sit down with her after they refined the final version and walk her through what they changed and why; I could see that being helpful if that’s something the designer was willing to do. Or if not them, you could have done it with her, because I imagine that a completed design would have made it easier to identify what exactly her versions were missing. That could have been a good way to move forward and give her some concrete goals to work toward. But it sounds like this worked out well.

    4. Lacey*

      Yeah, that’s hard.

      I listened to a talk by a graphic designer who was in the situation of your employee. She could do the regular design work they needed, but she wasn’t a logo designer and (at the time) struggled to admit it.

      She would have liked to have done it, but they hired an outside person. He was prickly and unreliable. But he did produce an amazing logo. Even at the time of the talk (many years later) I could tell she both admired and resented it.

  5. Anna*

    I guess the only point I really disagree with is 8. There are times, especially when dealing with auditing or contract standards, where the person’s perspective really doesn’t matter. If the contract/audit requires X, Y, and Z, then you must do X, Y, and Z. This isn’t something that is up for a debate or a discussion, it’s just what has to be done to meet our obligations.

    1. M2RB*

      Agreed – I love ALL of these except sometimes, the correction/change just has to happen, regardless of someone’s opinion. I think in those situations, we need to ensure that the employee is heard and acknowledged, that (if appropriate) their objections are noted in whatever file system exists, and keep moving forward.

    2. ceiswyn*

      However, there are also times when X, Y and Z haven’t been done because they were actually impossible. In which case yes, you really do need to listen to the person’s perspective, because they’re flagging up a problem you were unaware of and need to deal with.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Right. Even if it was possible for them to do X, why was it missed? Are more safeguards needed to make sure required things get done?

    3. Medium Sized Manager*

      Context is key, always. But you will also have more credibility when you can demonstrate x feedback is open to a conversation and y feedback is non-negotiable. And if the only feedback is non-negotiable, it’s an opportunity to look at whether or not they are getting all of the necessary feedback.

      1. HavenRose*

        Agreed. Even if the feedback is non-negotiable, getting the context is valuable for figuring out how to prevent the issue from occurring again. Did X happen instead of Y because they didn’t understand all the steps, they’re using outdated information, or did it happen because they should have consulted with Jane first but they went ahead without her?

    4. JustaTech*

      Yes on auditing. In some ways it’s easier because there is a hard and fast “right” and “wrong”, and that’s not up to the auditor’s opinion – either the number has three decimal points or it doesn’t.
      In other ways it’s harder because if it’s wrong, it’s wrong, and therefore you made a mistake. Depending on the culture of your work, and also how you as an individual approach mistakes, that can be harder to take on an emotional level. (Why yes, it has taken me years to get it through my heart that “this spreadsheet has 14 corrections” does not mean that I am a bad person. My head understood immediately but my heart kept insisting I was a failure.)

  6. Gozer (She/Her)*

    As someone who really dislikes criticism (receiving it) but is actively working on that this is a very good article.

  7. Professor Ronny*

    In places where I have worked, we do not call it a “feedback sandwich,” we call it a “sh*t sandwich.”

    1. Smithy*

      I do think a flip reason for why those “sandwiches” are so bad is that while many people lose the praise and just focus on the criticism – I work with too many people who only take home the praise and ignore the critique.

      Essentially, praise for working long hours, miss entirely how a tendency to miss/ghost meetings is disrupting workflow, praise for submission of recent work product. For everyone who will hyper focus on how they’re disrupting workflow – it’s too easy for another to walk away hearing praise for hard work and the quality of their work product, and miss the middle of the sandwich. Obviously, sometimes it can be that the person delivering the feedback rushes through the middle of the sandwich and doesn’t emphasize the negative impact well. Or it can be a personality type who can dismiss criticism if there’s ever an opening.

    2. Robert in SF*

      I seem to remember that the sandwich technique was to frame the improvement needed and help maintain the motivation of the person. To do it right, and be *constructive* takes some insight and observation from the Manager/mentor, and familiarity with the person’s experience, skills, and/or successes.

      So for example –
      Can I give you some feedback on your work? Thanks….I really like/am impressed by/appreciate how you handle this one aspect/challenge/activity, based on how you leverage this strength/skill/experience.
      I do see that you are having this trouble with this other part of work, and you may benefit from building that same level of strength/focus/ in this other skill that would help. What do you think you could do/need to make those improvements? What have you tried so far? What has worked to make some improvements? What else could you do, or do you think you need?
      If we/you do that, that could help bring your performance up to the same level that you demonstrate in this other type of work you do well.

      I didn’t interpret it as a way to soften the blow of criticism, although I can see how it could work that way if the person is sensitive or tends to self-flagellate! :)

      My description takes more work for the Manager/mentor to construct the criticism, and work with the person [who needs to be engaged and eager for improvement].

  8. Brain the Brian*

    What advice do people have for giving feedback when the feedback really is just “Please correct the grammar in this document and send it back”? I work with a lot of non-native speakers, and I simply don’t have the time to copy-edit every document I’m sent, line-by-line. I feel bad giving feedback that people can take as an insult to their language skills, but the reality is that a lot of their writing just plain sucks.

    1. Dasein9 (he/him)*

      Make sure there’s a copy editor who sees it before you do. Even when we’re writing in our native language, we need someone else to catch typos, errors, and poorly-constructed sentences. When we write in our second or third languages, we need that second set of eyes even more.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Would that we had the money for a copy-editor. It’s not in my job description, but I effectively function as one.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        And, anyway, many of them would probably bristle at the suggestion that their writing was not up to par.

    2. Smithy*

      I also work with people where English language skills are up and down – and I do think it might require stepping back a bit to figure how to make this more reliable.

      A lot of our non-native English speaking colleagues need proficiency in English – but they’re also hired for being a specific kind of technical expert which often doesn’t truly translate to writing English or English syntax brilliantly. And asking them to correct their prose may take a huge amount of time and still not be at your desired level.

      Where this is the worst, I honestly think the best approach is to get information sent to a stronger English writer. Because editing a longer document with off syntax can take a far greater amount of time than putting together a mix of bullet points and technical information where you add the transitional phrases.

      While you certainly can ask for another review, you’re likely for that just to be running spell check – which won’t really catch a lot of clunky syntax. Or trying different translation apps (which may or may not be approved by your employer). This is all to say that while I get you’d just like this material back in better shape, I think approaching this as a collaborative problem to solve is going to uncover a lot more about what genuinely is possible and where you might make this better.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        We are similar — but the thing that makes this difficult is that a lot of the people who are sending me things for review are supervising ESL teachers. They get understandably defensive if a native speaker critiques their English writing. Do you have any tips about how to broach that topic in the first place to convince them that they do, in fact, need to use some kind of help?

        1. Dasein9 (he/him)*

          1. Emphasize that copy editing is needed by everyone, including native speakers.
          2. Could they do it for each other, peer-to-peer? Sounds like they might actually know the rules, but not as fluently as we do our native tongues.

          1. Brain the Brian*

            1. Good suggestion. Thanks for it!
            2. I wish — but the documents often have student data that can’t be shared among different field offices.

            1. janewont*

              Can the drafts be anonymized (e.g., Student XY) and then shared for editing/put into ChatGPT/whatever? This would be largely acceptable at my workplace, which needs to be HIPAA-compliant.

              1. Brain the Brian*

                In theory, yes. In practice, it would just be another step where a human (probably me) needed to check for proper anonymization before we sent it off a grammar bot.

        2. Betty*

          I’d try to name a pattern and explain how it affects a meaningful outcome: “I’ve noticed that in the last 3 TPS reports, you’ve used extremely long sentences. In a few places, I had to go back and re-read several times to get your point. Can you try to keep sentences brief in the report going forward” or “Some of the newsletter items you’ve written use a very casual style with sentence fragments, and have a lot of typos like x, y, z in this item you sent yesterday. These are an important part of our image to donors, so they need to be formal and highly polished. Can you you be sure to do a close read for any typos and use a more formal grammar?”

          Note that all of that could be said to a native speaker as well– I’d try to leave the ESL element out of it, unless it’s really a specific issue of usage where something is technically correct but there’s subtext around word choice that makes it feel off to a native speaker from your region. (E.g., someone who learned English from an Australian and uses “thong” to refer to what Americans call “flip-flops” when posting a lab safety policy about footwear that cannot be worn inside the lab…)

    3. daffodil*

      I’ve written professionally and been complimented on my writing frequently, but sometimes I get feedback that amounts to “there were a lot of typos and grammatical errors” and that helps me zero. If I had seen the error, I would have fixed it already!
      I see two possibilities here: 1) your coworkers are subject-matter experts and not professional writers. They are being paid to share information, not format and style it. If this info is for an internal audience, it’s possible the grammar just doesn’t matter that much.
      2) your coworkers were hired to write and they don’t actually have language skills that are up to par, and then it’s a question for management about getting training or hiring different people.

      1. ReviewNerd*

        To be fair, noting that there were multiple grammar or spelling errors is good feedback itself if it’s a pattern.

        I had someone who I had to give this feedback to previously and noted the pattern, suggesting that they read the document aloud to catch such items. This ended up helping quite a bit because the core problem was they rushed through the document, not that they didn’t know the grammatical rules.

    4. Scandinavian Vacationer*

      Is there someone else who may WANT this function? I’m thinking of a finance person who had busy times and also slack times. She was a great proofreader, and it worked well to use her if requests came during her less busy times. Sometimes admin asst folks are also looking for stretch assignments, and proofreading could be reasonably tucked into their time.

      1. Angstrom*

        Yup. I was the best writer/editor in our group of technical folks, and copy editing thier reports was a nice change of pace and opportunity to use those skills.
        If someone writes with bad grammar, they probably can’t correct their own work. Sending it back to them may be futile.

      2. Brain the Brian*

        Unfortunately, no. If we work too far outside our specializations, our annual auditors claim we’re committing timesheet fraud. Even if we code the hours to correct function, they will flag it if an accountant is doing copy-editing. I am the rare person whose job title is ambiguous enough that I can work on a variety of things without attracting suspicion.

    5. higher ed-itor*

      Oof, I feel this—I’ve also worked a lot with people who are used to being considered excellent writers in their native language and are functionally very fluent in English, but regularly miss some minor structural things that end up making their copy look unprofessional to my eyes.
      One thing that’s been effective for me is creating a “house style” guide. Grammar can be very context-sensitive, and there are a lot of rules that get followed in one style but not in another e.g. the serial comma, so it’s a reasonable thing to produce anyway. If you frame it as “we want to standardize our writing style, so here is a handy reference,” it’s often an easier pill to swallow. The key message becomes about consistency and the particular quirks of the company, not about someone’s core identity as a writer.
      Yes, it’s a bit of a time/energy investment, and in a perfect world people would be able to address the underlying issues, but life gets so much easier when you can just point to a document and say: “This is how WE use possessive apostrophes, so please make sure you follow the guidelines when creating official documents.”
      Of course, this all depends on the severity of the errors! It works best with recurring patterns of minor mistakes. If there are bigger issues, I’m afraid I’ve always resorted to individual coaching, which doesn’t sound like it’s a viable option for you. (Maybe just leave a copy of Strunk & White lying around…)

    6. Professional Editor*

      Can you have a policy that everyone uses the spell checker in Word, for example, and implements changes?
      Word’s spelling and grammar checker has gotten fairly extensive and even gives a percentage score, so you could also say “I can review a document after its score is 80% or higher, otherwise, I will spend too much time on the picky little things that we all miss and not enough on the big picture.”

  9. Scarlet ribbons in her hair*

    I’m reminded of a previous job, where the hiring manager left after I was there for about five years. The secretaries that the following hiring manager hired were so incompetent that I thought that maybe she decided to hire them based on their response when she asked them what was the salary they wanted. I figured that she hired the women who asked for the lowest salaries.

    They made so many mistakes in typing up correspondence that the hiring manager announced that it would be my job to look over everyone’s correspondence and advise the secretaries of any errors they had made in terms of spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. The secretaries were required to fix their errors before sending out the correspondence. In addition, they had to give the hiring manager copies of their correspondence, and if the hiring manager found an error somewhere, there would be An Investigation.

    Unfortunately, this new policy made the secretaries very angry, and they took it out on me, even though they knew that I was not the one who had decided to go over their work with a fine-toothed comb. Several incidents stand out.

    1) I noticed that a secretary had typed “City Bank” instead of “Citibank” in a letter that she had not yet printed out. I told her to change it to “Citibank.” She insisted that her supervisor WANTED her to type “City Bank.” I said that I didn’t think so. She just glared at me. Eventually, I found out that the letter went out with the words “City Bank.” I asked her supervisor why he was so insistent that the name of the bank be spelled “City Bank.” Of course, he said that that wasn’t the case. He said that he even asked his secretary if I had seen the letter, and she said yes. I said, “You asked the wrong question. You should have asked her if she made the change that I told her to make, because she did not do so.” And then the hiring manager had a fit when she saw the copy of the letter that contained the words “City Bank,” and there was An Investigation. I had to tell her that I had tried to correct the secretary to no avail. And then the hiring manager had to talk to the secretary and the supervisor, who verified that he had never insisted that the name of the bank should be spelled “City Bank.” The secretary wound up getting furious at me.

    2) A secretary showed me the letter she had typed up and announced that her supervisor had said that it was perfect. I said that I wondered why she had typed “enc.” at the bottom of the letter, since nothing was indicated as being enclosed. She didn’t say anything. She just glared at me. I showed the letter to her supervisor and asked him how he could say that the letter was perfect. He didn’t say anything. I said that he could enclose his business card or the company’s brochure, but instead, he told her to redo the letter without the “enc.” She was very angry.

    3) I pointed out a few errors to a secretary. She didn’t glare at me, but she pouted and sulked. I said, “When you asked me to check the letter for errors, did you really mean it? Or did you want me to tell you that your letter was perfect, even if it wasn’t?” She didn’t say anything, but she did redo the letter.

    Some people just don’t want ANY criticism, no matter how valid and objective it is. I had no choice but to attempt to correct errors as I saw them, because if I hadn’t, the hiring manager would have been angry at me, and I might have wound up losing my job. And I didn’t think that I should lose my job because of other people’s errors.

    1. Eloise Feather*

      Sorry to hear this. The people in the examples you gave are not professionals at their craft. Secretaries are the most skilled individuals with immaculate attention to detail who handle everything with care.

  10. Lacey*

    I think the challenge for me is just getting anyone to care about the feedback.

    Which, I know, I just need to find a different job. But it’s wild to tell someone I need them to submit their requests on time and just hear back, “Oh that’s not possible because we didn’t leave enough time on our end to do that”

  11. AthenaC*

    I am going to push back a bit on #4, the supposedly dreaded “feedback sandwich.” Often when I’m in the position to give feedback, there’s virtually always things that are great and things that should change. I do always start with the things that are going well because I do genuinely want the person to know what they did well and not to change those things.

    And yes, it does soften them up a bit when they know that their efforts are seen; helps them be more open to listening to what they need to do differently.

    1. Betty*

      I think the issue is more when the sandwich becomes really artificial– but in general, I agree that flagging what’s going well, or even the positive intent someone had, is helpful. “I appreciate how dedicated you are to getting orders shipped on time. However, we’ve had a number of problems with errors, and you can’t skip the quality assurance review. I’d rather that an order doesn’t go out until the next day if that’s what it takes to get it right 100% of the time.”

    2. ThatOtherClare*

      I personally prefer to give continuous positive feedback wherever I can in order to build up a self-esteem bank in the person. That way any constructive criticism is framed in the context of: “Overall, Clare likes what I do” without needing to risk muddying the message in the moment.

      I suspect positive feedback timing comes down to a matter of context and style as much as anything.

      I will admit I am a big fan of positive feedback. I find it works really well when I want a person to keep doing a thing, or not to change something. I found sometimes in the past that if I sent an early draft back to someone with only the changes marked up, the next draft took a long time to come back, and returned with a large number of unneccessary changes in which some of the perfectly good parts were lost. I’ve found that if I also add in the relevant “This is great, keep this bit” comments, it heads this problem off at the pass and avoids unnecessary rework.

      I’m not saying I’m working with snowflake millennial children who need constant praise. People of all ages and experience levels simply didn’t know what I thought should be kept in or repeated next time without feedback, and that kind of feedback just happens to sound positive.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      My biggest issue with the sandwich people tend to hear what they want to hear and a person who really needs to take the constructive part to heart are the exact ones who tend to go “well, two compliments outweighs one negative!” and miss the whole point of the conversation (while the person who is overall doing a good job absent one or two things will fixate on the criticism). I prefer a lead in acknowledging something positive – how hard they’re working, how they pitch in to help coworkers, etc. – if there is something and end on a call to action/commitment to fix whatever the constructive piece is so the message is not diluted.

      I also think that, if you normalize feedback (positive and constructive) as something that is a routine part of doing business and a tool to help people succeed, you have to do less fluff around it when it’s time to deliver a tougher message. If your boss only talks to you when they have bad news, feedback is much tougher to give and digest gracefully.

  12. Echo*

    I once had a new hire tell me that her PREFERRED way to receive feedback was via “compliment sandwich”!

    She was very new to the workforce (first job out of grad school) though so I don’t hold it against her. I’m sure that she has now discovered its flaws. I just thought it was funny that I had a literal counterexample to “no one wants a feedback sandwich”. :)

  13. Eloise Feather*

    I appreciate this website and articles like this one. Allison, you write beautifully and I enjoy your insights. I read a lot of the AAM content which reinforces much of what I already know and amplifies that with varying viewpoints and stories of how others navigate similar situations. This is just a love note to say thanks for the community.

    This will sound harsh, but here is where I am. After much emotional anguish in my managerial role, I have decided to let go of my frustrations. I will continue to give proper feedback and guide my employees knowing that some people deliver average output. I realize that I CAN’T make people spectacular at their work. The company hires poorly and does not want to do anything about it.

    I have reverted to self-improvement and being spectacular at the things that I am accountable for until I can change the situation that I am in.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      By definition most people have average abilities and are average at work.
      Unless they are at a very elite organisation paying all employees a premium above normal salaries, most managers need to accept their workers will be mostly average, a few above, a few below.

  14. Hendry*

    I think another aspect is not everyone responds or communicates the same. When I’ve been a manager, some people simply take the “compliment sandwich” type of feedback better, and others it’s more effective to be direct with.

    Done right, one approach isn’t better than the other, just different

  15. roDan*

    I’ll share a technique that has worked for me in the past. Hopefully I am not repeating something someone has already said.

    First, you should be paying enough attention to the other person that you can create an elevator pitch of their situation or argument. The person who taught me said the goal was to be able to sum up their position so precisely the other person will say “I wish I had said it like that”.

    Second, mention points of agreement you have with that person. Don’t invent points of agreement for the sake of agreeing. The agreement should be sincere. But if the person has a legitimate point, you should mention it.

    Third, mention anything you have learned from your interaction with the other person. Again, this should be something sincere.

    At this point, theory goes, you demonstrated comprehension and sympathy, so the person should be willing to here your critique knowing it is not malicious.

    In practice, I used this on my Mom one year when she decided she was not going to cook Thanksgiving ever again and we’d be doing the holiday in a restaurant for the duration.

    So elevator pitch – “Your point is that the division of labor around Thanksgiving places too much of a burden on you.”

    Point of Agreement – “You are right. The amount of work you do is unfair and we should have talked about this a long time ago.”

    Things I learned – “I had no idea cooking a turkey was such a pain in the ass.”

    My critique – “I believe Thanksgiving in a restaurant is the exact opposite of what the Holiday is supposed to be about. We can have Thanksgiving pizza or Thanksgiving Chinese food. I don’t care. But Thanksgiving should be spent at home watching football with family and not trying to not spill on the strangers at the table next door or trying to get the server’s attention so you can get the check”.

    What we ended up with was a new division of labor where one sister hosted at her place, the other sister and her hubby cooked the turkey, Mom did the deserts and I did the dishes. Everyone brought an appetizer. It was lovely.

  16. BikeWalkBarb*

    I recognize you focused on feedback about things that need to change. The missing piece for me is the larger context: Do you provide consistent feedback including what they did well or correctly? If “feedback” is synonymous with “critique” or “criticism”, it stings every time. This is a bit like the sandwich except it’s spread out over time. You’re not giving only filling every time, you’re also giving bread *at other times*.

    Setting up a feedback culture/climate in which you routinely can say hey, here’s a thing you did that’s great, here’s a thing that could improve [in this specific way], here’s a thing I did where I’m trying to learn and improve and I’d appreciate *your* feedback on how that landed, you’re creating an ongoing atmosphere of improvement. The Management Center has a great format for 1/1 check-ins with the manager/supervisor also sharing here’s what I think I did well, here’s something I’m committed to improving, so you’re modeling a willingness to receive feedback as well as to give it and making a space for direct discussion. They focus on the nonprofit sector but their tools are also relevant for people working in other sectors.

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