Monday, March 21, 2011
Giving constructive criticism can be difficult. We like to be “nice,” and criticizing can be helpful, but not seem “nice.” At the Harvard Business Journal online, consultant Peter Bregman emphasizes the importance of giving criticism. Here is his suggestion on how to proceed:
First, ask permission. As in: "I noticed something I'd like to share with you. Are you interested in hearing it?" Or simply, "Can I share some feedback with you?" Once they say "yes" — and who wouldn't? — it evens out the power dynamic, makes it easier for you to speak, and prepares the other person to accept the feedback more openly.
Second, don't hedge. When we are uncomfortable criticizing, we try to reduce the impact by reducing the criticism. Sometimes we sandwich the criticism between two compliments. But hedging dilutes and confuses the message. Instead, be clear, be concise, use a simple example, make it about the behavior, not the person, and don't be afraid of silence.
Third, do it often. That's how you create a culture in which people are open and honest for each other's benefit. If you only offer feedback once in a while, it feels out of character and more negative.
Of course, not all feedback needs to be critical. Positive feedback is excellent at reinforcing people's productive behavior, encouraging them to use their strengths more effectively and abundantly. Offer it frequently. Just do so at a different time than you share the critical feedback.
Note that his advice differs from the common advice that you should sandwich giving criticism between giving compliments.