Criticism lingo


Criticism, like many things in life, is so much nicer to give than to receive. And if you have one of those bosses who says things like, “my door is always open”, or a go-ahead HR department wanting your feedback in other people’s appraisals, then you may well find yourself being exceptionally generous.

But beware. Truth hurts, and unvarnished judgments on your colleagues’ abilities, such as “completely useless”, “lazy” or “just plain thick” — however accurate and richly deserved — will do you no favours in the long term.

So, you have to tread carefully, and learn the lingo.

The first thing to remember about criticising others is to keep it broad and non-personal. Instead of saying John is always late, or Sandra spends all day on eBay, talk about time management in “the team”.

If you really want to sound statesman-like, you could talk about the office’s culture, as in “a culture of low productivity”.

Next, remember that problems, feuds and c***-ups, however blatantly obvious, should under no circumstances be referred to as such. They are “issues” or “challenges”. At the very most, you should talk about a “miscommunication” or “oversight”.

You might be asked for your diagnosis of team weaknesses. Resist the temptation to put the boot in — it looks unprofessional. When pressed for the reason behind all these issues, challenges and cultures of miscommunication, your answer should always be the same: capacity.

That’s right, capacity. Things go wrong in offices because of “capacity issues”, which means, broadly speaking, people don’t have enough time to do what they’re supposed to.

Bosses may have their suspicions, but need solid proof. Once they have it, a capacity issue becomes a “performance challenge”.

And this is where things start to get nasty. As a colleague, you should never talk about other people’s performances. It raises the stakes, and has a nasty habit of rebounding on you.

The last thing you want is for your masterly critique of team dynamics to be met with a response along the lines of: “If we don’t resolve these performance challenges, then retention is going to become an issue across the department.” Which in plain English means: “Pull your socks up or you’re all fired.”