How to criticize workers without creating resentment

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Rey Elbo-125

In The Workplace

Many Filipino workers are overly emotional and unreasonably sensitive. Even with a lot of mistakes, they feel they don’t deserve the criticisms they’re getting from their bosses no matter how hard they try to be objective in the process. Knowing this, what’s the best advice you can tell our people supervisors and managers who are having difficulties in counselling their workers? — Yellow Submarine.

Two taxidermists stopping before a window of a competitor’s shop and began to criticize the way an owl had been mounted on a tree branch. Its eyes were not natural, its wings were not in proportion to its head, its feathers were not neatly arranged and its feet lacked some claws.

Toward the end of their critique and just when they were about to leave, the old owl turned his head and winked at them!

It is often said that criticism in all contexts should be like rain drops. The rain should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots. In the workplace, it is always a challenge for managers to do just that without being misinterpreted for their actions in counseling their workers.

Even the managers don’t enjoy criticizing their workers, and some would simply ignore the problem in the hope it is fixed over time. The trouble is that this doesn’t always happen. This means that ignoring the possibility of a heated confrontation with problem employees could create an even bigger issue.

There’s no choice but to settle the issue squarely with those concerned. And to do just that, you only have to minimize employee resentment by observing the following measures:

One, ensure that the work standards and targets are clear. Leave no room for ambiguity or misinterpretation. If necessary, create visual guides similar to those in dynamic factories where “wrong” and “correct” ways of doing things are visually illustrated. In addition, written job descriptions must be distributed to all concerned.

Two, discuss the issue with the concerned worker in private. This is one of the most important rules in people management. When counseling or a corrective discussion is needed, it is important and necessary to use a private room with no visual or noise distractions. Do not use the private room as a neutral venue for you and the concerned worker and also to put the worker at ease.

Three, offer help to all workers every step of the way. But not excessively so to constrict their movements or the freedom to think for themselves. Make it appear you’re not doing close supervision, no matter how sincere your intentions are. Do Management by Walking Around (or the Gemba Walk) every day to meet people. Being accessible is a positive sign you’re always around to anticipate all possible issues.

Four, use the sandwich approach all the time. It means starting and ending the conversation with all the good things about the person and what he can do in the future. The negative issues are carefully inserted in with the positive ones without diluting the purpose of counseling that may even confuse the worker. After all, if the worker is not doing right, then the right approach may be disciplinary and not counseling.

Five, solicit employee solutions to the performance issue. This is the essence of co-ownership. If the workers are part of creating solutions to a problem, they would be more than glad to concretize its implementation. People who are actively involved as partners in solving problems are the same persons who can only make it happen.

Six, be serious in tackling the issues with the concerned worker. Don’t use humor to lighten the atmosphere. It could backfire against your management and your joke may be misinterpreted as a sarcasm, if not an insult to the other party. On the other hand, control your temper as losing it may only lead to a tense atmosphere.

Seven, focus on the bigger issues at hand. Nothing more than that. Don’t bring in other peripheral or trivial issues that may not be related to the discussion. Also, avoid comparing the concerned worker with others as this could fuel resentment, if not multiply his anger and weaken teamwork within your department.

Eight, document the agreement in clear terms. An email to the concerned worker is more than sufficient to summarize all agreed points and timetable. For this reason, immediately after the end of each counseling session, it’s always advisable to summarize everything what has been agreed upon and what the expectations are.

Last, follow up without being a constant pain. Be patient with the concerned employee up to a certain extent and without losing your cool. If the work performance doesn’t improve immediately, allow some time and make allowances to let the worker adjust. After all, different employees go about correcting their subpar performances at different paces.

ELBONOMICS: Criticize only the things you can’t explain and understand.


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