Critically important

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Staff needs training in dishing out, taking criticism
Roadblock: Marlene was completely frustrated by her co-worker, Jenny. As sales consultants, they had the same job responsibilities, each with her own group of assigned client accounts. In order to give the best service to the clients, the two salespeople had agreed to handle each other’s calls when one of them was out of the office. Jenny, however, was less conscientious than Marlene in taking care of the customers’ concerns and often failed to let Marlene know of the situations that came up with her accounts.
Marlene had vented her frustrations to everyone in the office – but not to Jenny. After yet another incident, Marlene finally “lost it” and told Jenny in no uncertain terms that she was inconsiderate and impossible to work with. Jenny retaliated with a verbal attack on Marlene, adding to the already tense atmosphere in the department.
Problem: Like many people, Marlene has no problem telling third parties what her complaints are about another person – yet she is unwilling to give the critical feedback directly to the individual involved. Not surprisingly, her stored-up emotions erupted in a personal attack.
The reason for her unwillingness to confront Jenny is one most people will identify with: she is afraid of the response she will get. And she has good reason to be concerned because she has not developed the skills for giving criticism in a manner that minimizes or avoids a defensive response.
This same “syndrome” often appears when managers or team leaders should be giving critical feedback to those people whose performance they manage, and when employees should be giving appropriate and needed feedback upward to their managers.
Solution: ll members of the organization should be expected to confront problem situations directly in a professional manner – both when giving criticism and when receiving it. And as with all job requirements, training should be provided to help people learn this necessary inter-personal skill.
A model for giving critical feedback should include these guidelines:

  • Avoid personal attacks; stick to the actions.
  • Examine your motive for giving the criticism; be certain it is to improve the situation, not to get even, or to vent.
  • Put yourself in the other’s shoes to find an empathetic position to begin the criticism. (“Jenny, I know you have a lot of customers of your own to deal with.”)
  • Explain the problem in specific terms. (“The fact is, I am unable to give the kind of service my clients deserve if I don’t have the information I need from the calls you handle.”)
  • Ask the offender to participate in finding a solution. (“Would you be willing to discuss what changes could be made in how we are covering for each other so both of us can give better service to our customers?”)
    Nothing works all the time with everyone in every situation. But the above approach can make a difficult situation an easier one to handle. Next month’s column will offer guidelines for maintaining control when you are on the receiving end of criticism.
    Solutions to Roadblocks is provided by Performance Consulting, a Brookfield training and consulting firm. Small Business Times readers who would like a “roadblock” addressed in this column can contact the author, Lois Patton, at 781-7823 or via e-mail at

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