Providing criticism is a bit like walking on eggshells. You want to be helpful, but egos are easily bruised. But good criticism is very valuable. Sometime people don’t understand the mistakes they’re making.
Providing constructive criticism effectively is a skill. Providing criticism poorly is a nightmare.
Try these strategies to deliver positive criticism effectively:
1. Ensure your criticism is actually helpful. There are many things we can say that are true, but not helpful. Unless you feel confident that your critique will be beneficial, keep your comments to yourself. Consider what you’re going to say and to whom you’re going to say it. Some take criticism better than others do.
* Even the best of intentions won’t always result in a positive response. Be prepared for a negative reaction.
2. Ensure you’re the best person to provide the criticism. Consider your history with the other person. Maybe they would be more receptive to the ideas if someone else told them.
3. Be specific. It’s not helpful if you say, “Gee, it wasn’t very good.” Specific feedback is much more useful and actionable. Focus on a few key points and provide suggestions on how to remedy the situation.
4. Choose an appropriate time and place. Providing criticism in front of the other person’s peers is questionable. In most cases, a little privacy is a better idea.
* Attempt to minimize the embarrassment the other person might feel.
5. Keep your emotions under control. You might have a good reason to feel upset, but your criticism will have the wrong tone. Stay calm and give the feedback in a fair and balanced way. Watch the tone of your voice, too.
6. Focus on the behavior. Telling someone they’re sloppy is received as an insult. Telling them their tennis backhand technique is inconsistent addresses the behavior. When you attach the error to the person, resentment occurs.
* Would you rather ask your spouse to pick up their dirty socks or ask why they’re such a slob? The difference in the responses would be startling.
7. Smile! Everything is easier with a smile. Use open body language. Show that your message is sincere. A smile also conveys that everything is okay.
8. Start with a compliment. Say something positive about their performance before launching into your criticism. A critique is easier to take after hearing a compliment. End the criticism with a compliment, too.
9. Go small. Even if you can spot 20 flaws, keep your comments limited to the one or two that are most easily fixed. Set them up to be successful. Too much criticism can be overwhelming. Help others to be at their best. When the smaller errors have been corrected, feel free to address the more significant issues.
* You also build trust with this tip. The more serious criticisms are then easier to accept.
10. Use humor. Be lighthearted if appropriate. Humor makes everything a little more palatable. Share a funny story about the mistakes you’ve made in the past. It will help to ease any tension or embarrassment.
11. Know when to stop. Pay attention to their reaction. It will be obvious when they’ve had enough. When that happens, wrap it up. There’s always another time and place to revisit the issue.
If you have children, employees, or a significant other, there will be occasions to provide constructive criticism. Depending on the situation, providing criticism can help you too, especially if the other person is driving you crazy. Providing criticism well is a skill. Learn to be helpful and provide constructive comments to the people in your life.