Criticism often tells more about the person who’s giving it than the person receiving it.

Giving effective feedback is hard. For managers and leaders, this skill is essential, because if you don’t do this correctly, you run the risk of damaging your relationships.

So what should you do? Here are a few guidelines:

  1. Don’t put off the conversation for too long (or worse yet avoid it). This may be your natural first reaction, resisting any potential conflict, but if you let the undesired behavior go on, its effects will be worse. It can also escalate and become an annoyance, and eventually lead to anger and hostility.
  2. Prepare in advance. These conversations are difficult, so it’s probably a good idea to spend some time upfront thinking about the things you’re going to say.
  3. Communicate clearly. Don’t be vague or ambiguous.
  4. Focus on the behavior, not the person. Don’t criticize the other person’s personality. Instead, talk about the ineffective behavior and its consequences.
  5. Don’t belittle. That will cause resentment, which will make the other person less open and less trusting, which will set you back short-term and long-term.
  6. The goal should be improvement, not blame. This is not a clever reframing trick. If your intent is truly helping the other person become more effective, in the end, he or she will appreciate it.
  7. Effective feedback is about cooperation, not obedience. People don’t like to submit and feel devalued, but they generally like to cooperate.
  8. Be open and flexible. Listen attentively and try to understand the other person’s point of view. After all, the other person may know something you don’t which may allow you to see things in a new light and possibly invalidate original assumptions.