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Communication Skills - How to Give Constructive Criticism

How to give Constructive criticism

Constructive criticism is important for everyone.
Constructive criticism (i.e. critical feed-back) can be used to continually improve the performance of the team.

But giving constructive criticism is a skilled art:

  • Some people cannot give constructive criticism: they make it sound like an insult.
  • Some people can take constructive criticism; they mistake criticism for "a put down".

If you need training on how to give constructive criticism then please, read on...........

Everyone needs Constructive Criticism.

We know that criticism is a form of feed-back.
We know that feed-back is information that relates the results of a particular action, to its effects on the progress made towards a goal.

We know that Feed-back comes in two forms: Positive and negative:

  1. You experience Positive feed-back, in the form of praise and acceptance.
  2. You experience Negative feed-back, in the form of criticism and rejection.

Please note the following:

  1. Most people love being praised and are motivated by praise and acceptance.
  2. Most people hate being criticised and are de-motivated by criticism and rejection.

Which presents us with a problem.

All actions produce feed-back results.
Nobody is absolutely perfect, so nobody's action is absolutely perfect.
Therefore, almost all actions are capable of creating negative feed-back results.

Remember that, negative feed-back is information that relates the results of a particular action to its effects on the progress made towards a goal.

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Therefore: you are always open to criticism:

Everyone is!

You can always improve.
You can always be criticised.
But most people hate criticism.

Most people hate being criticised and are de-motivated by criticism and all forms of negative feed-back.

Negative feed-back is built into the success formula.

The success formula is, you recall; a sequence of five steps that describes all successful, goal-directed action: The five step success formula is:

  1. Purpose
  2. Plan
  3. Action
  4. Feed-back. (Positive, and negative feed-back)
  5. Change

So, the success formula requires negative feed-back; yet the average person hates criticism.
They see criticism as something bad; something to be avoided.

Some see criticism as "a put-down" , an 'insult', an 'injustice'.
Some people just hate being criticised and therefore they expel themselves from the success formula.

Here is a rule to remember: Criticism is good!

You should welcome it.
You should even ask for criticism.

If someone criticises you, then, psychologically, you might take that criticism in three different ways:

  1. You could take the criticism as a sign that you are a failure; and therefore, lose courage and give in.
  2. You could take the criticism as an insult or a put down, and therefore become angry and aggressive or defensive. You could argue with the feedback-giver and give him a piece of your mind!
  3. You could listen to the criticism and regard it as information that should be analysed. You could analyse the criticism to see if it contains any truth. Any criticism you receive will fall into one of these three categories:
  1. True and valid.
  2. False and invalid.
  3. Partially true and valid.

You should listen to any criticism and regard it as information. You should analyse the criticism to see if it is: true, partially true, or false.
If true or partially true you should act on the feed-back and correct the error.
And you should thank the person for their helpful criticism.

For example: Imagine someone said to you:

"Sometimes, you speak to people in ways that are almost bound to trigger a negative emotional response from them: you often swear at people; and you make jokes at their expense. In my opinion, you should not so often swear and you should stop making others the butt of your jokes."

Question: How should you perceive that message?

What if you took it as an insult? What if your response was:

"Who are you to talk? You have got no right to judge me! I am what I am. I am not changing for you, or anyone else! Anyway, they all know that I'm only joking. So, mind your own business!"

Question: What would be the long term painful consequences that a person would suffer if he, or she, never accepted any valid and specific negative feed-back, but merely argued with it?

Answer: ultimate failure and self-destruction.

In addition: What would be the long term painful consequences that a person would suffer, if he, or she, always perceived specific negative feed-back, as a sign that they are a failure and that criticism means that you should give up and quit.

Answer: Ultimate failure and self-destruction.

Question: What would be the long term pleasurable consequences that a person would enjoy, if he, or she, always perceived valid and specific negative feed-back, as valuable information, upon which they could ponder and use to make the necessary corrective adaptions to their performance?

Answer: ultimate success and the realisation of a mature, confident and thoughtful character.

You should welcome criticism

Why?

Because Criticism is feed-back; And feed-back is valuable information.

Criticism makes you stronger

At this point you may be thinking; "But does it not matter how the criticism is given? Is there not a difference between constructive, and destructive criticism?"
The answer is yes, there is a difference between constructive and destructive criticism.

Is there a difference between:

  1. An "insult". and:
  2. A "negative feed-back message"?

The answer is yes.

What is that difference?

To discover that, please read the following list of statements:

  • Which of the following statements do you think are "insults"; and should be regarded as merely a put down.
  • Which of the following statements do you think are "negative feed-back messages" and should be regarded as valuable information.
  1. While you are taking a photograph, someone says: "You're standing too far away from the subject."
  2. While taking a photograph someone says, "You always take crumby photos".
  3. Your shoes are dirty.
  4. You are an idiot.
  5. You keep forgetting to phone me when you said that you would.
  6. You pronounced that last word wrong. The stress should have been on the last syllable.
  7. You have put on weight. (Assume it is true that you have).
  8. You have an attitude problem.
  9. Sometimes, you are a right bitch.
  10. You told Mary that thing I told you in confidence.
  11. You are too late for the beginning of the film. That's three times you've done that.
  12. You are lazy.

Now the key question is this:

What distinguishes all the insult- messages, from all the feed-back messages?

Answer

Whereas, all insult messages are: non-specific (vague), subjective, highly emotional, and do NOT suggest a specific corrective action.
All feed-back messages are the exact opposite: specific, objective, non-emotional and do, indeed, suggest a specific corrective action.

Imagine that someone says to you:
"Hey, fatty! You are a clown!"

We can safely characterise that as an insult because it is non-specific, subjective, highly emotional, and does NOT suggest a specific corrective action.
It does not tell you how to be:

  1. A "non-fatty", nor.
  2. A "non- clown".

Therefore, its value to you is limited.

On the other hand, if someone says to you:
"Sometimes, you swear at people; and you make jokes at their expense. In my opinion you should not swear so often and stop making others the butt of your jokes."
Then, that represents valuable information. It is a feedback statement that is specific, objective, non-emotional, and does suggest a specific corrective action.
It is important to distinguish insults from feed-back messages and to have a different policy for each:

  1. Insult messages are emotionalised and do NOT suggest a specific corrective action.
  2. Critical feed-back messages are objective and do indeed, suggest a specific corrective action.

We should give and accept critical feed-back with honesty.

With maturity, we should refrain from giving or accepting blunt insults.

Let's put these ideas together and draw some valuable conclusions:

  1. You can always improve.
  2. You can always be criticised.
  3. Most people hate being criticised and are de-motivated by criticism.
  4. We should learn to love criticism, because we recognise that it is feed-back information that relates the results of our particular action, to its effects on the progress made towards our goal.
  5. It is a common error to merely argue with the person giving the feed-back message.
  6. It is a common error to perceive criticism and rejection as a sign of failure.
  7. It is a common error to perceive criticism and rejection as a sign that one should give up and quit.
  8. We should welcome Criticism because it is feed-back.
  9. Feed-back is valuable information. Therefore: criticism can make you stronger.
  10. Criticism can make you stronger, but only if, you analyse it, to see if it contains any truth.
  11. Any criticism is either: true, partially true, or false.
  12. If the criticism is true, or partially true, then you should act on the feed-back and correct any error that is present in your current performance.
  13. And you should thank the person for their helpful criticism.
  14. It is important to distinguish insults from feed-back. Insult messages are emotionalised and do NOT suggest a specific corrective action. Critical feed-back messages are objective and do indeed, suggest a specific corrective action.
  15. With growing maturity, train yourself not to give, or accept, any crude insults.
  16. With growing confidence, train yourself to give, and accept, honest, critical feed-back.
  17. With growing intelligence, use constructive criticism to continually improve the performance of the people that you work with and, especially, your own performance.

For more information about communications skills training visit the Corporate Coach Group website

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