Give constructive criticism quickly

Aug 18, 2021
Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

Cheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, is a master of giving constructive criticism to those she works with.

While she has very high expectations of her teammates, she is also involved in nurturing them.

She gives feedback often and, importantly, doesn’t make it a big deal. She’s been known to do it quickly, in the halls between meetings, right after the incident.

(Immediacy really helps when delivering constructive criticism, rather than calling someone into your office and making it a “thing.”)

One of her past employees, Kim Scott, tells the story of when she gave a presentation in front of high-level executives. Sheryl stopped her in the hall after and started by explaining that the presentation was a success, and then said:

“You said ‘um” a lot. Were you aware of it?”

Kim replied that she was, but brushed it off with a wave of her hand.

“Was it because you were nervous? Would you like me to recommend a speech coach for you?...There’s no reason to let a small thing like a verbal tic trip you up.”

Kim made another shoo-fly gesture with her hand.

Sheryl laughed, then got straight to the point.

“When you do that thing with your hand, I feel like you’re ignoring what I’m telling you. I can see I am going to have to be really, really direct to get through to you. You are one of the smartest people I know, but saying ‘um’ makes you sound stupid.”

That got Kim’s attention.

Notice how Sheryl didn’t make it personal. She said “it” makes you “sound” stupid, not “you are” stupid.

There was no sandwiching criticism in between two bogus positives. Professionals are not kindergartners.

The approach was gentle but direct. It didn’t minimize the good stuff.

And, she also didn’t let it slide when Kim was clearly uncomfortable.

While it stung a little, Kim knew Sheryl had her best interest at heart.

All in a two-minute encounter.

Adapted from Radical Candor, by Kim Scott.

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