Constructive criticism, deconstructed


Veterinary-technician-turned-hospital-manager Danielle Russ sorts fact from fiction to explain what constructive criticism is and how to use it.

Delivering constructive criticism in "sandwich" form can make difficult feedback more palatable (wink, wink). Shutterstock.comWhen you think about constructive criticism, which words come to mind? At a Fetch dvm360 conference session in Kansas City, speaker Danielle Russ, BS, BA, AS, LVT, used live polling to ask attendees this very question. Here's a snapshot of their responses:

> harsh

> failure

> flaws

> judgment

Unsurprisingly, 61 percent of session attendees reported negative experiences receiving feedback and 81 percent reported negative experiences giving feedback.

So why is constructive criticism such a pain point? Russ's guess: “People often become managers because they're good employees, but that doesn't mean they know how to coach their team members to be the best as individuals and as a team.” That's a skill that veterinarians and practice managers must teach themselves, she says.

The good news: Management skills-including how to deliver constructive criticism appropriately-can be taught. According to Russ, here's what constructive criticism is (and isn't). Constructive criticism …

… is given at regular intervals.

If you only provide criticism after something negative happens, your team members will fear being called into your office, Russ says. Instead, it should be a part of regularly scheduled check-ins or reviews.

… is delivered in private.

Russ recommends praising in public and criticizing in private.

… is sandwiched between compliments.

Take the “but” out of your transitions from compliments to constructive criticism. “Use ‘and' instead, because anything following that ‘but' will completely negate the preceding compliment,” she says. Compliments should also be related to the constructive criticism they're sandwiching.

… addresses an action or a behavior-not a person.

Mistakes happen, but that doesn't mean your team member is a bad person, Russ says. Constructive criticism shouldn't be personal.

… is specific and measurable.

Avoid making “always,” “never” and “everyone” statements, Russ says. When possible, let the numbers do the talking.

… is not discipline.

True constructive criticism addresses honest, minor infractions or areas of needed growth, says Russ. Save discipline for major performance or behavior inadequacies.

… is short and sweet.

Get to the point and avoid giving a 30-minute lecture.

… includes the “why.”

“Your team members-especially millennials-are unlikely to blindly follow orders, so either give them the ‘why' or encourage them to come up with it themselves,” Russ says. Saying, “This is how we've always done it!” won't cut it.

… is a two-way street.

“If you're going to dish it, you better be ready to take it,” Russ says. View it as an opportunity to model to your team members how you'd like them to react to constructive criticism.

And finally, don't forget to follow up and recognize when your team member's behavior does or doesn't change.


Danielle Russ, BS, BA, AS, LVT, is hospital manager of The Cove Center of Veterinary Expertise in Suffolk, Virginia.

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