The best leaders do this at work

October 31, 2015, 3:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of Jon Wright/J&K Creative!

The Fortune 500 Insider Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Beth Brady, CMO of The Principal Financial Group, has answered the question: How do you make criticism constructive?

You can’t.

I believe the phrase constructive criticism is an oxymoron. Just look at any dictionary definition of the word criticism: “The act of expressing disapproval and of noting the problems or faults of a person or thing.”

Passing a negative judgment on an individual and his or her contribution is anything but constructive, and most certainly does not move someone forward.

I like to focus on providing feedback, input and coaching to motivate and guide a person to grow and do better.

Here’s how to make feedback more constructive:

Do it in real time
Feedback is most effective when given immediately (or shortly after an error — ideally within 48 hours). If you wait too long, your team member misses the opportunity to reflect on the situation while it’s still fresh. Giving instant feedback allows employees to put changes into effect right away.

Let reflection happen naturally
When a team member needs some input to generate a better result, start a healthy dialogue by asking him to give his thoughts first, and hold back on giving your own. Be an active listener. Engage him in the discussion by asking questions. Then, begin to problem solve together. You must enable him to be the owner of the solution by letting him figure it out.

Be part of the solution
The best leaders give coaching and advice to make someone better. For example, after a major project, I assemble all involved and debrief. That way, everyone is in the room and can openly discuss what worked, what didn’t, brainstorm how it can be fixed and assign a person responsible for following through on the change or resolution.

Accept constructive guidance
You must be able to take the feedback and make adjustments. The people who are the most successful know how to use this type of feedback to their advantage for future success. They don’t dwell on it. They talk. They listen. They learn. They correct. They move on.

Think about your motives. If your goal is to express disapproval, then call it what it is: criticism. But if your goal is to help someone improve, that’s coaching. And that is constructive. It will make a big difference in the result.


Read all answers to the Fortune 500 Insider question: How do you make criticism constructive?

The number one quality of the most influential people by Gretchen Zech, senior vice president of global human resources at Arrow Electronics.

Here’s how not to piss off employees after critiquing their ideas by Val DiFebo, CEO of Deutsch New York.

3 easy ways to make criticism sting a little less by Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobile & Business Solutions.

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