Any team leader worth his salt has some trepidation when it comes to leveling criticism. Doubly so in creative environments, where good designers and developers invest something of themselves in their designs and user experiences. I personally still find it hard to criticize others, but I have found some habits that make critical suggestions easier to give (and take).
- Criticize Constantly – Yes it sounds demoralizing, but good criticism isn’t a put down, it’s encouragement. When you make it a habit, it loses its hurt. Think of the friend who will let you know if your fly is down, you have something in your teeth, or you’ve made a horrible fashion blunder.
- Be Objective – Limit the role of your personal opinion, instead focusing on client communications, test results and policy and style manuals. If you establish clear and reasonable rules, coworkers who fail to observe them have a much better chance of accepting a judicious wag of the finger.
- Accept Criticism – Your staff won’t accept your criticism if you can’t accept theirs. Actively encourage suggestions regarding how you can do better (be persistent, they will be hesitant), take criticism seriously and graciously, and never be defensive.
- Balance Criticism with Appropriate Praise – The obvious part of this one is to also make a habit of praising colleagues for a job well done. The pitfall is to try to keep a perfect or artificial ratio, insincere praise can be as disparaging as callous criticism.
- Identify with Mistakes – Making mistakes doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to point out others mistakes, but it does obligate you do empathize and share your own faults and bad habits.
- Keep it Constructive – Don’t criticize what can’t be changed. The best criticism is aimed at areas of potential (I know you can do better than that!). Remember, the ultimate goal is better performance and happier employees, never cut people down, instead urge growth!