Moses, Max G


A new employee sends out 100 personalized letters introducing the firm to prospective clients – and mixes up the envelopes so that they don’t match the inside address. Your brother-in-law’s company, which supplies your firm with letterhead, misplaces the order and you run out and can’t get a new supply for three weeks.

A long-standing client calls and berates your office manager for no apparent reason.

What do each of these scenarios have in common besides creating yet another frustrating experience for you? Each may ultimately require you to criticize someone an employee, your brother-in-law or even a client.

The Working Communicator, a Chicago-based communications publisher, provides 12 guidelines to follow when you have to tell someone he or she is doing, or has done, something wrong:

1. Identify the behavior you want to criticize. Direct your criticism at the action, not the person.

2. Make criticisms specific. If a deadline was missed, refer to that specific deadline. Don’t make a statement such as, “You always miss deadlines.”

3. Be sure the behavior you’re criticizing can be changed. There may be some situations, actions, or behaviors that cannot be changed.

4. Use “I” and “we” to stress that you want to work out the problem together, rather than making threats.

5. Make sure the other person understands the reason for your criticism.

6. Don’t belabor the point. Short and sweet; no lectures.

7. Offer incentives for changed behavior. Offer to help the person correct the problem.

8. Don’t set a tone of anger or sarcasm. Both are counterproductive.

9. Show the person you understand his or her feelings.

10. If you’re putting criticism in writing, cool off before writing the critical letter or memo. Be sure only the person it is intended for sees it.

11. Start off by saying something positive.

12. At the end, reaffirm your support and confidence in the person.

Max G. Moses currently serves as Executive Vice President of the Commercial Law League of America. He is an attorney and a certified public accountant.

Copyright Commercial Law League of America Sep/Oct 1998

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