Don’t Pull a Gordon Ramsay: Tips to Provide Constructive Criticism & Feedback

Let’s talk about Gordon Ramsay. Not his cooking – but his devilish TV personality that ultimately painted him as “the chef who yells a lot”. Ramsay’s insults and outbursts are an internet sensation whether you liked them or not, to the point where it almost feels weird to see him in his calm and composed state (see: Gordon Ramsay with Kids vs. Adults). Now imagine this being your workplace where your boss would mercilessly hound you for making the simplest mistakes. Or maybe you’re the manager and you’re working with someone who isn’t exactly performing their best. Calling them a “f-king donkey” is, quite unfortunately, not an option.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

While a good IQ can get you into your dream school or dream job, you need emotional intelligence to help you manage the stress and obstacles that come along the way. For a leader especially to be truly effective, having a high emotional capacity is vital. Just think about it – would you prefer someone who lets their emotions get out of control or someone who is easy to talk to and is always mindful of others?

Emotional intelligence, or empathy, in particular, allows us to feel safe with our failures. At an unconscious level, our brains are constantly deciphering if the current situation is safe or dangerous; some psychologists refer to this as the risk/reward model. So when feedback is poorly delivered and risk is detected, the human brain is activated in the same areas as when we go without food or water. Your mission as a leader is to turn these tough conversations into a situation where employees can feel safe in.

The Do’s & Don’ts When Giving Critical Feedback

Like many things, there is no by-the-book method of giving critical feedback. But we do have some tips that can help you start that conversation.

  • Understand that giving and receiving corrections at work is very common and normal.

With team collaboration so highly encouraged nowadays, it is absolutely normal to need to make not one, but multiple tweaks to a project as a means to improve the final product. Letting your employees know that this is common and it’s not due to their incompetence per se is a crucial first step.

  • Don’t just say “don’t”.

Some of you who have children may have learned this the hard way – kids tend to do exactly what you tell them not to do. Likewise, at work, avoid using negative lingo when giving feedback. Instead, provide solid ideas on how to approach and improve their work. E.g. “Here’s a suggestion, try a different colour scheme with a warmer and milder tone.”

  • Aim for a balance of compliments and criticisms.

Your employees are usually a lot easier to please than you think. We’re not telling you to buy them cookies every day (although that’s certainly one way to win my heart!) But understand that if you’re going to tell them something unpleasant, make sure you’re also letting them know the times you feel impressed and grateful. E.g. “Good job, I’m impressed by how little time it took you to complete this!”

Having to tell your employees that they’re doing something wrong or not doing well enough is challenging. But with the right approach and experience, giving constructive criticism doesn’t have to be unpleasant for both you and your employees. At the end of the day, it’s how you approach it that matters; not only what you say.