Constructive criticism versus attacking someone as a person
Sometimes we have to deliver 'constructive criticism' - that is, letting someone know about something they do that you don't agree with. Constructive criticism is NOT however...
- Not letting them speak
- Over-generalising the problem
- Blaming them, attacking their core identity rather than focusing on the behaviour in question
- Indicating that everything they always do is wrong
- Raising your voice
- Invading body space
- Asking questions without waiting for a response: 'Why do you always...?, What do you think you are doing?, 'Why do you never....?
- Loss of respect, morale, and trust
- Lack of clarity in precisely what the problem is that needs addressing
- No clear feedback as to why the problem may have occurred and what can be done about it
Remember: 'An emotional brain is not a thinking brain.'
Giving specific negative feedback (Constructive criticism or 'complaint')
Constructive criticism can also be described as 'complaint', which in fact is a clearer way of putting it. The word criticism implies something personal, complaining is more about behaviour. Here's how to do it well...
- Have a gentle start up to your complaint. The 'you' word at the start can immediately switch people into the defensive. Rather start with phrases like: 'I've noticed recently....'
- Be specific in your feedback. Talk only about the problem with their behaviour / performance you wish to address
- Keep it time limited: 'Recently I've noticed that....', and 'I want to talk about the incident last week...' Not: 'You always/never blah blah blah (because that is all they will hear!)
- Don't make comments about their personality, appearance and don't make wild statements about how everyone else perceives them. This can be unfounded and crushing. Remember some things you say may be irreparable later on so stick to the point! Keep emotions out of it as far as possible.
Being respectful and fair doesn't mean being scared to deliver the message. It is much more skilful to deliver a difficult message well than to bulldozer someone. Learning to do this well means keeping open lines of communication and maintaining relationships, which of course is most important if you have to work with them in future or they are your romantic partner
How to give compliments
Mark Twain said he could live two months on a good compliment. This may have been pushing it a bit but giving regular and sincere (most important) compliments cements relationships.
Note: Keeping complaints specific limits damage to relationships. Being specific with your compliments maximizes their effectiveness.
So a rule for any type of feedback to other people is: Be specific!
For example, "You are so wonderful", does not have the same power as, "The way you handled that meeting showed you have real people skills... especially when you...". Keeping your compliments specific makes them meaningful and more likely to be believed.
A compliment to a young boy such as: "You were so great today winning your race / trying your hardest / comforting your friend" is much more readily accepted and memorable then a vague, 'You are so wonderful for just being you!'
Criticism (even when constructive) is more likely to be accepted if it is tempered by regular compliments. A ratio of 5:1 compliment to complaint is a handy rule-of-thumb.