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How to (Productively) Tell Your Co-Worker They Screwed Up

Make sure your "constructive" criticism is truly constructive.

You’ve certainly been on both sides of a compliment sandwich—it’s the overrated idea that to give better feedback, you should sandwich the core criticism with positivity before and after. Finding praise to give is easy enough (even if you need to embellish the truth here and there). What about when you’re struggling with the meat of the sandwich—the areas that need improvement?

Especially when you’re dealing with someone who made mistake at work, you want your feedback to be detailed enough that the recipient has concrete ways to move forward. Use the following points to add specificity to your feedback so that your coworker or employee can actually learn, grow, and improve.

Avoid the heat of the moment

When a coworker or employee screws up, it’s natural to feel frustrated or angry. However, your reaction will be more productive if you give yourself some time to thoughtfully address what went wrong. Otherwise, the focus of the conversation will be fueled by frustration, rather than on identifying solutions for the future.

Make sure you give yourself some time and space to gain perspective, and then deliver your feedback with a clearer head. Don’t wait too long, though—no one needs the additional stress of putting off an awkward conversation.

Use specifics to make your feedback more effective

Effective feedback needs to be detailed enough for the recipient to move forward and improve. “Don’t do ____ anymore,” is hardly an action item. Here’s a mental checklist you can use...

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