Giving (and Taking) Workplace Criticism

April 12, 2021 by AACD Executive Office

Here’s a universal truth: No one likes to give criticism, but most people want to hear it!

An AACD member recently posted on the MyAACD community asking for some advice on how to handle a tricky office situation with a new associate. Her supportive fellow members were happy to offer some words of advice.

Like many practice management issues, this is the stuff they don’t teach you in dental school.

But constructive criticism in the practice environment can help team members understand what they are doing well and what they may need help with. And the benefits of not holding back on feedback include professional development, clarified expectations, stronger working relationships, and overall practice growth.

Workers understand the value of constructive criticism and they even prefer it to praise and congratulatory comments. By a three to one margin, respondents in a Harvard Business Review study believe that constructive criticism does more to improve their performance than positive feedback.

But despite the benefits of and desire to receive constructive criticism, the study revealed that managers and leaders strongly dislike giving this type of feedback. Here are some tips can make this process as simple and effective as possible.

Avoid Surprises. A meeting without notice can cause team members to feel intimidated and catch them off-guard when you provide feedback. If the feedback relates to the team, Dr. Jim Hastings, AAACD, and AACD Past President offered: “Have a separate team meeting first to ensure that the entire team is on board. Ask their advice. Make the meeting safe, agree on the reasons for the meeting, agree on a plan and check in regularly to ensure that everyone is being accountable to the agreed-upon goals.”

Keep It Private if it’s an Individual Issue. Don’t provide individual feedback in a group setting. Giving constructive criticism in the workplace should be done privately, so that the team member doesn’t feel singled out and you have the time to work through the feedback. Praise publicly; critique privately.

Don’t provide individual feedback in a group setting.

Be Specific. Clear and specific feedback is critical. Get to the point quickly to avoid confusion. Jeffrey Lineberry DDS, AAACD, offers, “Make sure that the employee, in this case, your associate, has what they need to be successful. It could be that the materials and/or matrix system is not what they are used to and hence, the outcome is less than desirable. Also, do they have enough time to do the job well? You can ask specific questions first to clarify that.” Hastings continues: “In the non-confrontational meeting with everyone, ensure that the team is all working toward the same goals. And any team meeting should have an agenda and notes should be taken and distributed for reference.”

Don't Make It Personal. “Focus on actions, not the person,” Charlie Harary says in Entrepreneur. You should be focusing on what the team member is doing and how to improve, not their personality. There’s a difference between calling a team member disorganized and pointing out how they aren’t as structured as needed. The former makes an assumption about the person.

"Focus on actions, not the person."

Don't Forget the Positive. When it is relevant to your feedback, you should include positive aspects of the employee’s performance. By highlighting an employee’s strengths, you can help the worker understand what he or she is doing well while pointing out areas of improvement. Lineberry continues: “If they think they are doing a stellar job and you don't, then this can pose a bigger issue. I have found that many times this leads to a discussion about things and how you can help elevate and improve the situation.”

Provide Ideas for Improvement. Provide examples of the team members’ behavior and how they could have handled the situation. Hastings counsels: “It's probably best that you set mutual goals and a timeline for accomplishing those goals. This would be best accomplished at lunch or after work in a non-confrontational environment. That will take time, patience, and understanding.” AACD Past President, Mickey Bernstein, DDS, AAACD, says, “I would suggest weekly meetings to review cases, staff relations, learn verbal skills, and more.”

"Set mutual goals and a timeline for accomplishing those goals."

Make It a Conversation. Hastings says, “It's time to have an honest and in-depth conversation with your associate, as soon as possible.” Giving constructive criticism in the dental practice is an opportunity to coach and guide an associate or team member. If they are going to understand what you have to say and how he or she can improve, it needs to be a dialogue. They should be able to explain his or her side of the story and ask questions about how to improve. “Honesty is the best option for sure,” says Lineberry. 

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