Ask the expert: Constructive criticism during nursing competency assessment

Nurse Leader Insider, December 12, 2011

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This week, Barbara A. Brunt, MA, MN, RN-BC, explains the steps to take when offering constructive criticism during job performance evaluations and competency assessments.

Q: When assessing the competency of a staff member, what is the best way to offer constructive criticism?

A: This is one of the most challenging responsibilities of anyone who evaluates the job performance of others. The purpose of constructive criticism is to provide feedback on both strengths and weaknesses. Constructive criticism should motivate, reinforce learning, and identify the nature and extent of problems.

Use the following four steps when giving feedback:

  1. Identify the unacceptable actions. What is the staff member doing or failing to do that is not acceptable? Remember to focus on the employee's behavior, not his or her personality. Give specific examples, such as "You did not follow sterile techniques when you touched the IV tubing with your sterile-gloved hand," not "It seems as though you do not care whether you endanger the patient by ignoring proper sterile techniques."
  2. Explain the outcome. What about the behavior is unacceptable? How does it negatively impact productivity, patient outcomes, and so on? Be specific. Use descriptive terms instead of evaluative terms.
  3. Establish the expectation. What must the employee do to correct unacceptable behavior? Again, be specific, and use objective, descriptive terms. You are describing actions to improve behavior, not providing evaluative comments about a person's personality.
  4. Identify the consequences. What will happen if the employee corrects his or her behavior? What will happen if he or she does not?

Editor's note: Do you have a question for our experts? E-mail your queries to Editor Rebecca Hendren at and see your name in print! In the meantime, head over to our Web site and view a growing collection of advice from our experts. 

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