Employee RelationsLeadership “Constructive Criticism”

February 14, 2022by Tim Finnegan0

“Would you mind if I gave you some constructive criticism?” That’s a question that often strikes fear in the hearts of most people.

What that actually means is “Would you mind if I gave you some negative feedback, wrapped in the guise of helpful observations, whether you want it or not?”

The problem with criticism is that it challenges our sense of value. Criticism implies judgment and we all recoil from feeling judged. As Daniel Goleman has noted, threats to our esteem in the eyes of others are so potent they can literally feel like threats to our very survival.

The conundrum is that feedback is necessary. It’s the primary means by which we learn and grow. So, what’s the best way to deliver it in a way that it provides the greatest value — meaning the recipient truly absorbs and acts on it?

There are four key behaviors each grounded in the recognition that what we say is often less important than how we say it.

It’s Not About Us

We often give feedback when we are feeling that our own value is at risk. Any time we provide feedback with the goal of getting someone to better meet our needs, rather than being responsive to theirs, it’s unlikely to prompt the desired outcome.

Offer Reassurance

Hold the other person’s value in the process. Even the most well-intentioned criticism will, more often than not, prompt us to feel our value is at risk, even under attack. When that happens, the impulse is often to defend ourselves. The more the person you are criticizing feels compelled to defend their value, the less capable they become of absorbing what they are hearing.

Fact Based

When you’re inclined to offer specific feedback, pause and ask yourself first how you’d feel if someone gave you that feedback. If you would feel uncomfortable or defensive, assume anyone else would too. It is possible that your feedback could be coming from a place of emotion rather than a place of logic. Your single data point of experience does not actually make the feedback true. Be sure that you are presenting facts, clear data points, and logical reasoning when you provide feedback—not just your feelings.

Exploration

We sometimes take a series of facts and weave them together into a story that supports and justifies the case we’re seeking to make. Are those stories we tell ourselves true or our interpretation of the facts. It makes much more sense to think about offering feedback in a spirit of dialogue, curiosity, and humility. Humility is the recognition that we don’t know, even when we think we know.

Honest and Respectful

At the end of the day, we all just crave respect and honesty. Even in times when it is hard to hear, if properly communicated, real constructive criticism makes us better. Respect the intellect of the person to whom you are providing constructive criticism. Spare them the script from the seminar you took on management and just have a conversation. A REAL conversation, where you treat them like a smart, capable adult who wants to do their job well.

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Tim Finnegan

Tim Finnegan founded Aisling Executive Coaching Ltd. in 2018. It is a natural evolution of 40 years of experience in sales, operations, marketing, management, and leadership development. As an executive coach, Tim works with executives and high potential employees to help them gain self-awareness, clarify goals, achieve their leadership development objectives and unlock their potential as leaders.

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