Giving Constructive Criticism

There is an Art in giving Criticism (albeit worthwhile) as well.

Yar you ARE good and all but I’m sorry. You aren’t what we had in mind. Better luck next time!

Criticism is a necessary part of life. You’ll endure criticism for the majority of your young life, from corrections to your penmanship to comments about your performance in a professional setting. Inevitably, many of these pieces of criticism will be purely constructive, helping you figure out what you’re doing wrong and putting you on a faster path to improvement. But some of these pieces will cut you deeply, serving as insults as heavily as they serve as criticism.

Taking criticism is difficult enough, but giving constructive criticism can be really tricky, especially when you don’t want to completely tick off the person you’re talking to. You may not have complete control over how someone else will perceive your words, but you can do a lot to communicate constructively.

Here’s how to offer constructive feedback without coming off like a jerk.

Do NOT point while giving criticism. The person already feels down. Do not make him feel secluded as well.

Don’t Make It Personal

This goes without saying, but one of the most important things to do when you’re delivering feedback is to make sure it’s not personal. Sure, criticism by nature can be personal, but you need to make a point as the person delivering it to separate your thoughts on someone’s work or behavior from their personality and what you think of them outside of it. Keep your criticism focused on the specifics that you want to discuss, and avoid the temptation to make judgments of the person or their work based on the specific feedback you want to give. Remember, “you need to respond to urgent issues faster” is not the same as “you’re slow.” You want to communicate the former, not the latter.

Give Kind Criticism, and Remember Why You’re Offering Criticism At All

Remember, the point of your criticism is to help someone improve, or to correct a problem that impacts them, you, and likely others. You’re not venting, you’re not working out your stress, and you’re not boosting your own ego—if you are, stop now and reevaluate whether you actually have legitimate criticism to give, or you just need to talk to someone. If you genuinely want to help someone, or see behavior that needs to be corrected, make sure your feedback carries that message.

You need to provide “kind criticism,” where you offer positive and specific suggestions to alleviate the issue at hand, or identify the problem clearly without talking about the person, just the issue. It can be challenging, but the best criticism is the most mindful, and the most targeted. From the other side of the table, it’s also the easiest to work on, because you see the problem clearly and can come up with a way to fix it without feeling like you have to fix yourself as well.

Like this dirty slate, a person becomes unstable after they are faced with an obstacle they failed to conquer. To have them start afresh, it is your job to first make stabilize their mental state and then make them understand they can always try again.

Use the “Sandwich” Approach

You may already be familiar with the sandwich method (or the hamburger method) to delivering criticism. Put simply, you want to “sandwich” your critique between two positive things about the person’s work to soften the blow, and to avoid coming off like you’re just blasting your coworker or friend. Too much feedback without a reprieve will alienate the person you’re talking to, so the goal of adding compliments to the mix is to give them a mixed bag of ups and downs so they’re more likely to pay attention to the whole package.

After all, no one likes sitting and hearing reasons they suck one after another after another—mix it up with some things the person does well, or reasons you like their work. Most importantly though: be sincere about those positives. We all have accurately tuned BS detectors, and we can sense when someone’s scraping the bottom of the barrel for positive filler around the real criticism.

Give Feedback, Not Instruction (Unless You Know How to Instruct)

It’s one thing to tell a family member that you’re concerned about their eating habits, or your colleague that them being late with their work to you every week makes you have to work weekends. It’s another to tell the former how to eat better, or the latter how to work faster. You may have absolutely no idea what your family member’s lifestyle is, or your colleague’s workload is—put yourself in their shoes: if someone else came riding in and told you how to live your life do your job, you’d bristle too.

Keep your criticism to your observations, and how they impact you, your relationships, and your work. Don’t try to fix the problem, just identify it. Offer to help fix the problem, and to support the solution that the person you’re talking to comes up with. Unless you know how to do the work your coworker is doing, don’t try to solve it for them—they’ll just write off your feedback and ignore you.

The other person may be teary eyed but it is your responsibility to tell where they went wrong so they can make it right the next time.

Be Specific About The Result You’d Like to See

It’s really easy to be snarky and vague—in fact, our culture encourages passive-aggressive snark disguised as intelligent commentary. Unfortunately, it’s rarely helpful, and almost never useful. Instead of saying “You should clean up your act,” when talking to a slovenly friend, be specific and say “Wouldn’t it be great if your apartment were more organized?” or “You’d look wonderful if you cleaned up a bit.” Instead of throwing up your hands and saying “this sucks!” explain why you think that way, and be constructive about what you’d like to see, or what would help “this” suck less. No one’s going to learn anything from the former, but even though you’re unhappy, at least someone can think over and get some ideas for improvement from the latter.

Obey Wheaton’s Law: Don’t Be a Dick

Remember, communication takes two people, and it’s easy to forget that when you write off other people’s feelings as “the way they interpret your words.” I’ve found that most people who fiercely defend their habit of saying whatever they think without consideration for others are really lamenting the fact that they can’t be jerks without someone calling them on it. Remember the Wheaton’s Law, and think about how your criticism will be taken.

There’s a line, of course, but a little sensitivity on both sides goes a long way towards actually solving problems instead of straining relationships and making everything worse.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.