5 Ways to Give Positive Criticism

Criticism hurts for most, but given right, it can inspire both the critic and the critiqued. Here are five tips to make your critique a positive experience.

This article comes from An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies.

unhappy person

There is nothing pleasant about criticism. Even the best intentioned critique still stings. People like to be right, correct, and accomplished, and when they’re not, it hurts to hear the truth, no matter how nice your critic tries to be. Still, those who strive to improve, value direct feedback no matter how painful. And as long as the critic is not being malicious, he or she can actually build a higher level of trust by providing constructive criticism carefully and empathetically.

So whether you are reviewing an employee, family member or friend, here are five tips for giving criticism in a way it will be appreciated and well received. I also put notes to the receiver as to how you can make the most of the critique.

1. Have Clear Objectives

Ask yourself what is the best possible outcome of this critique. If you are simply venting with no intention, you won’t likely achieve anything but rancor and resentment. Perhaps you are only prolonging an eventual termination in which case why waste energy and emotion while putting off the inevitable.

On the other hand, if you find yourself the target of an attack, see if you can diffuse the situation by asking your critics what they hope to accomplish. In the best case, you may get an understanding of the real issue. In the worst case, you’ll know it’s time to make a graceful exit willingly.

2. Create a Neutral Environment

Consider the time and place for your critique. It usually helps not to critique in front of a crowd, which generally leads to humiliation. Human Resource policies may require a third party, but better to make sure that person is fairly neutral so no one feels ganged upon. The best way to neutralize the tension is with appropriate humor. You can build rapport and take down defenses by sharing your own personal experience of silly mistakes you have made in your career. This helps the subject relate to your humanity before addressing his or her own inadequacies.

If you’re the one in the hot seat and you feel threatened or embarrassed by your environment when being critiqued, speak up. Ask to move to a private area or to set up an appointment in the near future. Prepare yourself for the information you will receive. Be attentive with open body language so your critic relaxes as well.

3. Use Fewer Words With More Meaning

Your subject has a strong inner voice during a critique and is likely anxious, so keep your critique brief and to the point. The more you say, the more likely you will distract from the key points and make them hard to remember. Plan your conversation in advance and in writing so the subject can walk away with clear direction on how to improve.

When you’re on the receiving end, let your critic speak their mind. If you debate on the spot, you’ll appear closed and defensive. Better to agree to consider the feedback in the moment. Then you can revisit the conversation with careful thought and perhaps a little critique of your own if warranted. You’ll be taken more seriously when your response is thoroughly contemplated and well articulated.

4. Align the Criticism With the Subject’s Goals

A self-serving critique falls upon deaf ears. Know your subjects well enough to explain how your suggestions will help them achieve their desired objectives. If they are invested in the outcome, they’ll likely be more open to suggestion, regardless of how they feel about you or other people involved. For example, if their goal is to be an amazing boss, then dealing with other people’s objections becomes integral to their success. Provide the context for advancement and the critique will be welcomed.

When you’re the one being critiqued try stepping outside yourself. Listen objectively to what’s being said. If you are clear on your goals, you’ll be able to better identify and filter the good advice from the unwarranted ranting of lunatics.

5. Encourage Self-Critique

Instead of simply laying out a list of offenses, describe scenarios from an objective viewpoint and ask key questions so your subject can draw their own conclusions about their weaknesses. Lead them with questions to understand from a management perspective why a different behavior is more suitable. When making statements, stay away from direct attacks. Use “I” language and speak from your own experience.

Everyone should do their own self-assessment regularly. Try and anticipate the key points of any critique before it happens. If you are able to start the conversation by listing your own failures and suggesting remedies at the outset, you’ll disarm your critics and likely impress them as well. Then the whole experience will feel like a win-win for you both.


3 ways good manners make good managers

This article comes from Jennifer V. Miller, managing director of SkillSource

Is there a proper “etiquette” for leaders to follow when developing their teams? I’ve often heard it said that etiquette is simply helping others to feel comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. Taken in this context, there is a connection to career development and etiquette because leaders are well-positioned to help their followers navigate the uncertainty that often comes with a career transition.

So where does honor fit into the equation? As the mother of modern manners points out, rules aren’t the governing factor in the science of living — honor is. When leaders come from a place of honorable intention with career development, they are stewards of their followers’ careers in the best possible way. They aren’t squeezing somebody into a predefined mold because the company policy said that how it must be. There is no one-size-fits-all rule in helping people grow professionally.

Developing people with honor requires that leaders:

  • Find the good in people
  • See possibilities, not barriers
  • Loan their belief to people suffering a crisis of confidence

Leaders at their most honorable help people prepare for and pursue their next big thing. However, the path to what’s next for employees might not be clear, and that’s where leaders can help followers navigate those unfamiliar surroundings when a career-building opportunity presents itself. Just as a gracious host handles unforeseen circumstances with élan, so too does the leader who practices developing employees in a mannerly way.

Are you a leader with impeccable career development manners? Here are three guidelines to steer you in the right direction:

  1. Orient people to their “X.” The first step in charting a new path is determining your location. Employees can be so mired in the present that they can’t even see where to begin. Etiquette in this situation calls for you as the leader to help employees see the large “X” on the map that says “You are here.” Help them discover talents they have that make them already prepared to take on a new assignment, even if the official job description doesn’t quite match. Once people understand their current location, they’re more able to take the next step.
  2. Imagine the future. Next, leaders need to help their team members visualize moving from here (their “X”) to there. Employees sometimes struggle thinking about future career possibilities. Leaders help people imagine the “next iteration” of their career; they are better positioned to suss out the personal transformation their team members need to take it to the next level career-wise. It’s helpful to state the growth in terms of from/to framework. For example: “from hesitant public speaker to confident presentation pro.”
  3. Create a supportive plan. Making a big career change can feel scary to even the most self-assured professional. Like a trapeze artist who’s in that brief moment of hang time in between the trapeze bars, making a career transition from “here” to “there” is fraught with uncertainty. Leaders who help lay out a plan that supports incremental growth with measurable milestones are those who maximize the probability of successful career transitions for their team.

Your leadership reputation is tied to the way you develop your followers. Your success will be measured less by strictly following the rules and more by the wisdom of your heart. In career planning, skip the formulaic “When X, then Y” and go instead for an honor-based approach, which is a personalized, professional growth plan for your team.