None of us is perfect. We all fail some time or another. You see it every day, and it’s usually much easier to see in the other person than in yourself! Still, we do run across others’ errors, hurtful comments, failings. At times it may be appropriate to give constructive criticism. You want them to know of the mistake or hurtful comment in order to correct an error or set an appropriate boundary. You may also desire for them to know the effect of what they’ve done. The whole point of giving feedback is to help the person to improve. This is true whether you are a supervisor talking to a direct report or to a family member or friend in conversation. Constructive criticism should be just that: constructive. It should be given with the desire to improve the other person. If the motivation here is not virtuous, it most likely will not be taken well.
There are many ways to discuss giving constructive or positive criticism. For our purposes, today we’ll look at several factors indispensable in offering criticism or feedback. First, make sure you have the facts straight. The efficacy of constructive criticism is in direct proportion to the credibility of its source. Conversely, few things can torpedo your authority more quickly than unknowingly basing your comments on factual errors. At the same time, know that the recipient when presented with the error in black and white can feel a bit dumb. This is a vulnerable moment. Be careful. Show a little empathy when giving constructive criticism. Stop a moment and remember what it is like when you hear of your errors. Here are some things to consider:
• Suppress the urge to comment on the character or personality deficits of the person. If you bring these up, it’s likely to fall on deaf, insulted ears. The recipient will see your comments as attacks.
• Detach the situation from the person. This distinction is crucial. Take the person out of the equation and focus on the behavior or situation at hand.
• Comment on the issue, not the person. i.e., “The clothes are dirty” and not “You look terrible”. “The report is late” and not “You are late”. “The food is oily” and not “You are a bad cook”.
• Use a passive voice, rather than an active voice. Here’s an example of active voice vs. passive voice: vs. “The presentation was bad.” vs. “You gave a bad presentation.” Notice that the passive voice shifts the attention away from the person and brings it to the subject matter or their specific behavior.
• Share how it affects you. Rather than go on and on about how bad the thing is, share how it affects you. This shifts the focus away from the person and onto yourself, which lets the person take a step back to evaluate the situation. It also gives insight to where you are coming from. A favorite way of doing this that therapists often point to is the “I feel a one word emotion (angry, sad, happy, scared), when you the other’s specific action or behavior” sentence. For example, “I felt disappointed when you didn’t make the two changes we talked about.”
Let’s take a further look at this next week.