Rule 1: start with facts and not with interpretations
A rule that most people are familiar with when it comes to giving criticism: start with facts and not with interpretations. That way, the other person will know what you are talking about and discussions are avoided. So don’t say: ‘Your approach is not customer-oriented enough’, but rather ‘In December, we’ve received four written complaints from customers regarding your dossiers, in contrast to the average 0,5 per employee.’
‘Well done Charles! Great report Betty!’
This also applies to expressing appreciation and receiving criticism. Stop giving general appreciation such as ‘Good job Charles! Great report Betty!’ It is too noncommittal and general. It sounds like a daily tune that you, as a manager, feel you have to sing. Just say what you like about the work, the report, and the feedback from the customer: ‘What I thought was so good about your report were the very concrete agreements, including names and deadlines. The results were immediately noticeable at the next meeting: almost everyone had carried out the agreed actions.’ In this way, you make it clear that you have thought about it and that you think it is important enough to state it specifically. And by specifically naming the behaviour, you reinforce the right behaviour.
When an employee criticizes you
Apply the same rule when an employee criticizes you: ask them to state clearly what goes wrong for them and what they want from you. By being clear, you avoid being too soft and woolly. Being specific and well-founded is precisely what the feedback triangle requires.
Rule 2: link your criticism or appreciation to the values, norms and mission of your organization
If something goes right or wrong, link it to the values, norms and mission.
- When giving criticism: ‘In light of our USP as an organization with a unique customer service, this is unacceptable. I consider this a serious problem.’
- When expressing appreciation: ‘Almost all of you have carried out the agreed actions. Given the importance that we attach to teamwork and result-orientedness in our organization, I think this is great.’
- When receiving criticism as a manager: ‘Given the importance that I attach to the development of my employees, your criticism affects me very much and I will certainly take it on board.’
By making this connection you operate at an entirely different level: the level of the organisation as such and the joint goals and mission. Passion, inspiration, enthusiasm, the ‘higher’ goal. While the first rule has to do with grounding, having one’s feet on the ground, the latter has to do with ‘inspiration’ and ‘passion’, coupled with the ‘higher’ goal.
Value the three elements of giving feedback
If we divide the three elements of feedback (giving criticism, expressing appreciation and receiving criticism) evenly according to our feedback triangle and succeed in eliminating and integrating the opposition between ‘grounding’ and ‘passion’, the ‘concrete’ and the ‘general’, we as managers can lay the foundation for a sustainable, open and efficient feedback culture.