May 18, 2015

Nice People and Criticism

Most of us are nice people. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, least of all those of our employees or volunteers. Yet criticism is a necessary part of management.

From time to time I’ve had to manage people: interns, volunteers, and occasionally employees, and of course like most of us, I’ve worked for several managers, good and bad. Here are a few things I’ve found make giving and receiving criticism easier:

Communicate often. If you’re in regular communication with your employees, then presumably you’ll regularly be offering them positive feedback, as well as occasional critiques. This will make the negative feedback easier to hear. It also allows them to better understand your communication style so they can interpret your feedback. Consider regular check-ins with your employees or volunteers.

Open yourself up for criticism. Ask for feedback from your employees and volunteers. One person I know has a boss who asks every week, “What did I do this week that made it more difficult to do your job? What did I do this week that was helpful?” This might not be appropriate for every position, but you get the idea.

Set clear goals and expectations. This means that you can offer your feedback in the context of team goals and measure performance against expectations that have already been set. If you have goals for the team then criticism will feel like less of a surprise and less personal, as well.

Remember, your employees need feedback. I have worked with a few people who occasionally act unprofessionally. They may make snarky comments in meetings or talk too loudly on personal calls during work hours. If no one tells them that their behavior is unprofessional, they don’t have the opportunity to change. In the long run, your employees will benefit from your feedback, even if it’s not fun to hear.

Much of this can also apply to volunteers and vestry members. The relationship is slightly different than, say, an office administrator that you oversee, but regular communication, clear goals and expectations and constructive criticism are just as necessary. Your volunteers want to do a good job, and sometimes that means you have to tell them when they need to do things a little differently.

Most importantly, don’t avoid criticism. Avoiding offering criticism can make your life easier for the moment, but ultimately it’s bad management.

What advice can you add for giving and receiving criticism?

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