How to GIVE constructive criticism

IJMm-app-icon-logoIt’s not easy to give constructive criticism. No. Let me rephrase that. It can be VERY hard to give constructive criticism. Yes the receiver has a major responsibility in HOW the message is received but that process of “receiving” becomes significantly easier if you the giver, do it right.Whether it’s a romantic relationship, business relationship, team setting , leader-follower relationship, parent child, sibling, friendship or any other relationship, these points below will not only make people receive your feedback better, but you will also become a trusted ally in the lives of those people.

Here we go. Remember…DO these things…not just read them.

1. Understand that the ONLY justifiable reason to give CONSTRUCTIVE criticism is that you really want things to get better: CONSTRUCTIVE criticism is for positive change. It is not for you to get things off your chest or for when you have a personal problem with someone or the way something is done. That’s simply criticism and most people in your life can do without that. Constructive criticism is for making things better and unless you actually GENUINELY CARE about seeing the person or process get better, keep it to yourself.

2. Say why it matters that you share: If you follow rule number 1 above, you’ll HAVE a reason why you CARE about seeing things better. The next step is not to assume that the person who you’re going to talk to knows the reasons why you care to bring this up. So tell them.  Don’t assume that they can smell or sense your good intentions.  Say it and start from there.

3. Understand that the PERSON is often different from the SITUATION: There is something called the Fundamental Attribution Error in psychology. It happens when we assume that the “person” in the situation is what is wrong, NOT the situation itself. In even simpler terms, it is when we judge the person…the character of the person, without looking at the situation. Someone seems to get low grades in school and you assume they are lazy when in actuality, they study really hard but have problems retaining information, OR may live in family situations that prevent proper study. A person has commitment phobia and you assume they want to play the field whereas they may have seen their parents go through a divorce and were affected by that.

4. LEARN first, TEACH later: Many people forget that the thoughts they have about others and why other people behave the way they do are mostly based on assumptions. Sometimes those assumptions are right…sometimes. So before you go calling someone to offer “good intentioned constructive criticism” LEARN FIRST, TEACH LATER. Unless you are sure that you know the circumstances well, seek to understand the SITUATION…the circumstances under which those actions were taken. Ask questions that put you in the shoes of that person or that decision maker. This helps you direct your constructive criticism better and puts them at ease.

5. Earn the right to give an opinion: Unconsciously, that person is asking themselves “what gives this person the right to give me an opinion?” “What gives them the right to offer me any type of criticism?”  You see the fact that you have something good or constructive to say is not enough reason for people to listen to you. We often forget that for us to really influence others (even positively), we need a RELATIONSHIP. We need to develop rapport…a trusting environment. One of the fastest ways to earn that is the first part of number 4 above (LEARN FIRST). This is crucial because people will not bring their walls down unless they know that you have made significant attempts to understand them. Attempting to understand people and the shoes they walk in helps you earn the right to give constructive criticism and helps bring the walls down.

6. Stick to the facts: How you FEEL about the facts is not really important right now. The FACTS themselves are, so stick to the facts. State what is going on and the effect of what is going on. Start with what you can verify not what you are assuming. This instantly tells the person that you are taking the unnecessary emotions out of it.

7. Think of solutions too: The world would be a much better place if people put as much effort in finding possible solutions as they do in finding problems. Part of what makes criticism constructive is that at the end of that conversation about what it wrong, there are options on the table that point to what can make things right. Having possible solutions is part of showing that you actually CARE and that you’re not just being critical for the sake of getting “stuff” off your chest. Not having solutions or at least not suggesting that you discuss solutions after your “problem-identification” conversation is just flat out rude. Show them how these possible solutions will actually make things better. “If you do A, then C improves and because of that, D may see a huge improvement which will ultimately make B better”

8. Talk about impact, not just incidents: Another critical element of making criticism constructive, is not just to rant on about what happened, or what someone did wrong , when, to who ..or what went wrong and how it went wrong, but to talk about the IMPACT of those things on you, others or on the “system” in other words, you don’t want to play “gotcha” and point fingers and bring out all this evidence on the incidences that happened, but you want to share the bigger picture so that they can see how it affected someone or something else. That will instantly help the receiver feel less defensive. “You came late to work on August 1st and that impacted your teammate because he could not end his shift until you got here and he had to be here an extra 15 minutes after an already long day” OR “You yelled at john last week in public. He felt embarrassed and now he has not come to practice 3 days in a row and his part is hard to replace so it’s affecting the whole team”

9. Give the person the opportunity to own the decision to change: Instead of saying “you must change or else…” try “What would happen if you tried it this way?”  Or “How do you think Mike would treat you if you changed this or that?” as opposed to “Mike would totally treat you better if you changed this or that

10. Remember that you have the advantage of time and preparation: Yea…you’ve been thinking of how you will have this conversation for days. You’ve looked at every angle, every tone, every possible response and you’ve even practiced in front of the mirror. Meanwhile, he is she is completely clueless as to what is going on in your head. So when you do have that conversation, don’t just drop a bomb. Create a good environment, start with something positive, compliment them, and prep them for what is about to happen, tell them about the conversation you are about to have and tell them that they don’t have to have a major response right now but they should just listen to you and can go back and think on it to see if it makes sense and get back to you later. This will relieve them from the need to “react” to your feedback as opposed to taking time to reflect and “respond” after they have processed.

So there you have it. Study these points and you will become a trusted friend and ally in all relationships you have. People will become less defensive and more open to your feedback…heck they may even want more.


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