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3 Tips to Critique with Confidence, Clarity and Connection

The Leader's 3-2-1: Three Insights, Two Questions, One Statistic.

Feedback Series (Pt. 2): 3 Tips to Critique with Confidence, Clarity and Connection Learn feedback skills that hold others accountable, establish clear expectations, and coach others to optimal performance. See previous: Preview, Part 1

Now that you've got your systems in place (see part one), the next communication skill that will set you apart as a leader is mastering the art of giving critical feedback in a way that is clear and confident while also maintaining connection. In my coaching practice, I see leaders hesitate at first with the duty of constructive feedback. It's normal and human to feel a little self-doubt or nervousness to critique someone's performance or unproductive behaviors. Tips to deliver critical feedback with clarity, confidence and connection in 3-2-1:

Three Insights

Own Your Role as Boss

Particularly in middle management roles, it can feel vulnerable to practice your authority. What can feel at risk is being perceived as a micromanager, as “bossy” or as “too high and mighty” if you deliver critical feedback. Yet, blurring your role with misplaced modesty will promote misunderstanding in roles, goals and expectations which can lead to disconnection, drama and diminished results.

Self-coaching: To clients facing this vulnerability I ask: “How can you own your role as boss here?” It's your duty to provide critique, coach for performance, and deliver great results. This doesn't mean you lord your authority over others. It just means you notice any hesitance around owning your role as giver of feedback.

Feed Forward with a Clear Request

Frame feedback around what you want to see moving forward and make tangible, actionable requests for future behavior. Cast a vision for how you want behavior to shift or change. This approach is not only more clear for the person you're speaking with, it also promotes feelings of trust, safety and connection to be future-focused. Do be specific as to what inspired feedback in the first place - but spend more time creating shared understanding on what you want to see next.

Self-coaching: Moving forward, what do you want your employee's performance to look like? What measurable shift in behavior are you requesting? Use phrases like “Moving forward…” and “Next time…” in your delivery.

Focus On What You Can Control

The reactions and responses of the receiver are beyond your control. What is in your control: crafting a clear, kind, and useful message. I've noticed leaders tend to over-focus on how someone might react and under-focus on clarity of desired changes. Truthfulness can be uncomfortable for giver and receiver at times. Yet, ambiguity will only create conditions for misunderstanding and disconnection.

Self-coaching: Where might you be fogging up a message in an attempt to control how someone might react? Check out this 9-minute podcast on three important steps for delivering difficult news: Practice Difficult Conversations

TWo questions

What is the outcome you are desiring?

It's easy to get stuck on what might have made you angry and forget to focus on what outcome you're wanting. Giving feedback in anger often leads to not useful communication like character judgments, moralistic commentary and over-simplified suggestions. Before giving feedback, pause to answer this.

When will you circle back?

Repetition and reminders are healthy parts of communication. Once you've delivered your feedback, let your employee know when you'll circle back to check in and learn more about how you can continue to support them.

One Statistic


When delivering feedback, lean into what feels sincere, authentic and truthful: “In a Harris Poll…2,034 U.S. adults were asked to consider a time when they were inspired by someone whom they've personally known in their adult life and to select the person's inspirational behaviors (in terms of communicating), that had the greatest effect on them…Forty percent say the greatest impact came from how the person said what they meant and spoke with authenticity.” -Kristi Hedges, The Inspiration Code

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