Updated: May 24, 2022
What's the best way to provide constructive feedback to sensitive or argumentative technical employees who are unlikely to take it well? It's a question that has challenged managers at all levels for years. In my experience as a technology executive at major corporations for 25 years, the following approach works best. It isn't always easy but it has never let me down.
I always strive to balance the good with the bad. I find positive things to say before I dive into the constructive feedback. It may be something that the employee did particularly well, or I highlight the future potential I see in them. When I share the criticism, I say it concretely and constructively. I make a point of staying calm, maintain a helpful tone, and am careful not to inflate the issue into something bigger than it is. I am prepared with suggestions on how to handle the situation better the next time. My goal is to make the employee understand that we're in it together, and that my primary objective is to offer assistance.
Constructive criticism doesn't have to be painful to give and it should be embraced by every manager as a coaching opportunity. After all, making individuals and teams better is the most important aspect of any manager's job.