How to give constructive criticism that will be received and appreciated.

Some people are great at giving constructive criticism, and some are great at receiving it. Like anything else in life, it’s a skill that takes practice and active personal reflection. Meaningful feedback is integral to an employee’s personal development as much as it is to your business’s success. If you find yourself looking for methods to give constructive criticism in a way that will motivate your team, here is one strategy.

What you might be doing now…

Everyone knows the sandwich method. It’s the strategy where you stuff your criticism between two compliments. While this method might feel like it’s taking the potential for conflict out of the equation, it may actually be making your feedback less impactful.

“People still use [the sandwich method] because they’re nervous about being too critical,” said Joy Baldridge, author of the 2019 book The Joy in Business: Innovative Ideas to Find Positivity (and Profit) In Your Daily Work Life, in an interview with Fast Company.

However, it’s not a foolproof method of getting your point across. So what is?

The Velvet Hammer:

Like its name suggests, the velvet hammer method of giving feedback is soft, but direct. It gets right to the matter at hand, without being abrasive.

“The velvet hammer is actually a verbal contract you are creating with another person to better yourself as a leader and better them as team member, colleague, or friend,” Baldridge says.

Sounds great!

Here’s what you do:

These are the steps Baldridge recommends following to deliver effective constructive criticism.

  1. Begin the conversation with, “Got a minute? I need your help.”

Your approach should be friendly, not intimidating. Baldridge says that asking for help “is an international surrender of agenda. It’s a disarming way to get attention sincerely and genuinely.”

  1. Next, “I noticed that [problem behavior goes here.] (Pause) I was wondering what’s causing this problem (pause), because it cannot continue. What do you suggest we do?”

Baldridge says that asking the employee what actions they suggest is powerful, because people are most persuaded by their own words. Likewise, it is a nonthreatening and open minded approach that still implies value in that employee’s thoughts and feelings. Finally, the word ‘we’ in a problem-solving setting is an important part of showing leadership when managing a team.

Before you try it with your team, here are some things to note:

  • The script is helpful, but you want to sound authentic, not scripted.
  • Baldridge suggests practicing in front of a mirror.
  • Be mindful of your tone. You want to sound like you’re searching for solutions, not delivering a reprimand.

Why does this method work?

Baldridge likens it to telling a friend they have spinach in their teeth.

“If you have spinach in your teeth, do you want to know or not?” She asks. “When something needs to be said, most people in the organization know it. Everyone, that is, except for the person who needs the feedback. It’s like a someone walking around the office with a ‘kick me’ sign on [their] back.”

In her perspective, the velvet hammer method is actually a very compassionate way of giving constructive criticism. In conclusion…

The velvet hammer is another tool to add to your leadership toolbox. Remember to be purposeful and confident when giving constructive criticism, and hopefully your team will see the benefit.