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Spreading Muck or Spreading Love? Delivering constructive criticism

Failure is to be celebrated we are told.  If you’ve failed then you’ve most probably pushed your comfort zone and not quite hit the mark.  We take the learning, regroup and try again with new information, skills and attitude.


What if we don’t know we have failed though?  Perhaps “failure” is too strong a word but I figure bandying it about takes the sting out of it. And sometimes people tell us where we’ve gone wrong which is fine if you’re in the right mindset, if we’re not, it can cause hurt, embarrassment, shame and damage relationships.


When we are running a business, department, team or even a family, delivering constructive criticism is part of the role.  When we are the expert, when we are hungry to learn ourselves, we can forget how uncomfortable receiving advice can be.

In the 1980s we used to talk about delivering a S*** sandwich:  a positive statement to open, the criticism and point of improvement followed by another positive which is a 2: 1 ratio.  According to more recent research reported in the Harvard Business Review by Zenger and Folkman (March 2013) the ratio should be closer to 8:1. High performing teams generally had over 6: 1 ratio of positive to negative feedback (Gottman says it’s 5:1 in a good marriage).


When I first heard this I giggled, I could just hear some of my past clients: “Really?  You have to pay them and be nice, on purpose, to an 8:1 ratio?” Knowing their To Do lists and diaries were bursting at the seams I questioned the feasibility of them reaching such an equilibrium. If this is not an Urgent then it should be an Important action on your To Do list. People don’t leave jobs they leave managers so this is important.


What we can do is to delegate and build positive acknowledgment into the business week:

·         Make a point, personally, of acknowledging at least each of your direct reports weekly – that’s recognise the behaviour or work and say what that says about them as a person.

·         Create a “Snaps Cup” –  Inspired by the production “Legally Blonde” (I know, bear with …) my daughter's boss implemented this very successfully with their customer service team. each member of the team writes a positive statement “A little anonymous praise. A warm and fuzzy …” about each of their colleagues’ work or how they helped someone in the team. If the team is too big each can randomly select a name each week to write a “Snap” about and they are all read out by the team leader. It is amazing how powerful this is – adapt by all means but I genuinely recommend you adopt it!

·         Weekly team meetings are another opportunity to spread the love – public praise and recognition is always positive.  Save the “learning points” for a private meeting unless they apply to the whole team.

·         Winners Board – write the positives for the whole team to see on a white board somewhere social

·         Internal newsletter/intranet is another means of communicating your appreciation

·         Employee of the week award – voted by team

All possible and I'm sure you have more you could share with us.  So let’s take Michael Curry, Presbyterian Bishop’s advice and harness the power of love.  Oooh, I feel a song coming on …

If you’d like some help with this, or just share your ideas feel free to comment below!