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How to Provide Constructive Criticism via Email


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how to provide constructive criticism

When you provide constructive criticism to an employee via email, every word carries weight. If you use the wrong tone or phrase, it could doom your entire message and put the employee in a major defensive mode.

I feel leaders should give critiques in person whenever possible, but I recognize there are times when email is more expedient or necessary given the circumstances.

So, the template:

Subject line: Observations on your work

Hi [employee’s first name],

Good morning/afternoon.

I appreciate your hard work so far on the [name of project; for instance, “Johnson account”], and I want to pass along a few critiques to make you even stronger in front of [”the client” or “our team”].

NOTE: I’m careful to use “and” and not “but” to connect the two sentences above. The use of “and” signifies I value the employee’s work overall and have ways to make it even better. As in, my message hopes to add to your skillset rather than claim you’re doing it all wrong.

[Then, explain in clear language how the employee can improve. Don’t waffle or dance around the edges; come right out with it. For instance, “Your sales deck about our new Acme 300 had typos on the cover page and the printed copies had smudged ink on several pages. These are little mistakes, but they can be costly with a new client we’re still trying to win over.”]

[If you need to share additional information, add it here; for instance, “In the future, please make sure someone else on our team reviews your sales decks and other reports so we can catch any of the errors.”]

[Finally, give the person the benefit of the doubt — assuming he/she isn’t a repeat offender; for instance, “I know we churn out a lot of reports and decks, but each one matters a great deal. I’m sure you’ll get it right from now on.”]

Thanks again for your efforts, and let me know if you have any questions.

– Your first name

Deeper Insight

The email above is constructive. It does not attack the employee for the errors with the sales deck. Again, if someone repeatedly makes mistakes, it deserves a larger conversation.

But with a one-time offense, the key is to build people up while telling them how to improve. A leader should hold employees to account, but not in a way that demeans them or makes them feel useless. What good does that do?

The key is to be up front, professional and helpful.

Featured photo: Alexander Mills (Unsplash)

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