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Forget About Criticism; it Doesn’t Work

Joe Marconi


Have I got your attention? Great.

Let me start by saying that I believe in giving praise when deserved and letting employees know when they dropped the ball. However, the truth is that no one enjoys being reprimanded or told they messed up.  

The question is, what is the appropriate balance between the right amount of praise and the right amount of critical feedback? According to studies done by Harvard Business School, the ratio of praise to critical feedback should be about 6:1 – Six praises for every critical feedback. I am not sure if I agree with that.

From personal experience, I would recommend a lot more praise. The exact ratio doesn’t matter. What’s important is that before you consider giving critical feedback, ensure you have given that employee a lot of recent praise. If not, whatever you are trying to get through to an employee, will fall on deaf ears.

When you do have to give critical feedback, remember a few things:

  • Focus on the issue or behavior; never attack the person, and remain calm in your actions and words
  • Ask the employee for feedback, their side of the story
  • Speak to the employee in private
  • Address the issue soon after it happens; never wait
  • Don’t rely on second-hand information; it’s always better if you have experienced the situation yourself that you want to correct
  • Have an open discussion and find things that both of you can agree upon
  • Have an action plan moving forward that the employee can take ownership of
  • Use the experience as a learning tool
  • Make sure you bring up positive attributes about them
  • Remember, you don’t want the employee to be angry or upset with you; you want them to reflect on the situation and what can be improved.

One last thing. Everyone makes mistakes. We need to be mindful of this.

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Here's a good example of a shop owner biting their tongue.  The most exasperated I ever got with an employee was when my tech forgot he was driving a stick shift into one of our bays.  "How can somebody forget that?" you may ask.  The really bad part was the customer was about to go to a family reunion and this was the only vehicle they had access to with a 5th wheel setup in the bed of the truck.

Assuming it was an automatic transmission vehicle, my tech merely depressed the brake to stop forward movement.  This was a 3/4-ton Dodge Ram diesel...not a chance.  The clutch tore right through the brake holding power and kept going forward.  It was only after the vehicle almost knocked another car off the lift did the tech think, "Oh, shit, this isn't an automatic" and depressed the clutch pedal.  Heck of a time to suddenly realize you have a clutch pedal.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words... here's a video worth a million words.

The customer missed the family reunion and goes, "I don't like hanging around those people anyway."


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