Deliver Constructive Criticism the Thoughtful Way

Because nobody likes being wrong, you must be delicate and effective when pointing out error.

By Brandi Tadlock, CPC, CPC-P, CPMA, CPCO

Every position in healthcare administration occasionally requires the ability to tactfully offer constructive criticism. Understanding when, where, and how to critique the work of your colleagues is critical to ensuring your message is received, without destroying rapport in the process. The next time you are faced with critiquing an employee’s performance, keep the following tips in mind.

Check your facts.

Never tell someone they’re wrong unless you’re prepared to back up your opinion with facts (preferably using information from an authoritative source such as the Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), or CPT® guidelines). Make sure you have a firm understanding of the subject and don’t be afraid to consult with someone more knowledgeable, if necessary. Telling someone he or she is wrong when you’re the one who’s incorrect is embarrassing, destroys your hard-earned credibility, and will make it more difficult for you to be taken seriously in the future.

Gain perspective on complex issues.

It’s important to know what you don’t know. If you don’t have all of the facts about a situation before sounding the alarm, you might end up inadvertently “crying wolf.” If a situation doesn’t seem right to you, don’t be afraid to speak up. Just make sure you ask questions first to ensure you have the full picture.

Remember the “Golden Rule.”

How would you feel if you were on the receiving end of your criticism? It’s important to mind your tone and your choice of words to avoid being perceived as bossy, condescending, or arrogant. Think about what you’ll say before you say it and try to find the most tactful way to deliver your message.

Consider the best method for approaching the subject.

Some issues are best discussed in person and some are best handled via email. If you choose to address an issue in person, it’s always best to do so in private to avoid publicly shaming the other person.

If you must discuss an issue via email, it’s especially important to proofread your email. Avoid statements that could be taken the wrong way, as it’s more difficult to ascertain tone in writing. If possible, have someone else review your email before sending it to make sure your message reads the way you intend it to sound.

Have a solution prepared, but opt for a resolution.

It’s important to offer solutions whenever you point out a problem, but keep in mind that other people may have their own ideas for solving the problem, which may be just as good as yours. Collaboration in problem-solving helps to build rapport, demonstrates that you recognize the other person’s intelligence, and that you value his or her opinions.

Constructive criticism can be a difficult skill to master, but it’s one that will greatly benefit you in every aspect of your career.

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Brandi Tadlock, CPC, CPC-P, CPMA, CPCO, is a member of the Lubbock Lone Star Coders chapter. She’s been in healthcare for five years, working as a coding and compliance analyst, a medical record auditor, and a reimbursement specialist.

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