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.


Do You Have Bad Boss Syndrome?

One of the most common fears today of many managers is the fear of loss of control.  It generally stems from the fear that many managers believe that someone below them will out perform and “take their job away.”  For this reason, most managers feel like they have to control everything, push every button, prop every employee up – if the employee doesn’t need the manager, then the boss will think he doesn’t need this manager either.  However, I have seen several situations where individual managers did not get promoted because they had no one below them to take their place, and this is often a common mistake that many managers make – they don’t train their own replacements so they cannot be promoted.

Despite what many think and will say, today’s work force wants and needs a voice in the organization.  For this reason, the most popular method is being a participative manager, slowly empowering your employees to think for themselves, and be responsible for their work and for their actions.  Participative managers involve their employees with input into problem solving, decision making and continuous improvement projects.  Today’s managers still have to get tasks completed, but soliciting the help from their workforce helps accomplish with more reliability and efficiency.   Forget about being the dictator or tyrant, be the coach – you’ll find out that a happy work force is a more productive workforce.

I share this article with you from a Mr. Joel Garfinkle, from smartblogs.com/leadership

Do you have BBS (Bad Boss Syndrome)?

By Joel Garfinkle on April 15th, 2013

Do your employees stop talking and look uncomfortable when you walk into the coffee room? Does everyone but you go out for drinks after work? Is your boss checking up on you more frequently than usual? Do your projects seem to be stuck in quicksand?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may have (horrors!) Bad Boss Syndrome. But relax, the condition is curable. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of a good boss and see how you might be able to reverse the trend in just a few short steps.

  1. A good boss praises in public. A job well done deserves to be recognized. Employees will knock themselves out for a boss who gives them kudos in staff meetings. They’ll crawl through broken glass for a boss who tells his boss how great they are.
  1. A good boss critiques in private. Never single anyone out for criticism in a group. Schedule a one-on-one and share responsibility for the breakdown. “How could we have done this better?” is a great way to start.
  1. A good boss acts like a peer. A lot of bosses can’t get out of their egos. They flaunt their power, act like they’re above it all, and remain emotionally distant from the rank and file. That kind of behavior diminishes you as a leader. It makes you seem small, and keeps you from connecting with your people. Adopt a “we’re all in this together” mentality.
  1. A good boss will do whatever it takes. Your subordinates need to know you’ve got their back, no matter what. If a client threatens to leave, you’re there to help save the day. If the team’s high-profile project is about to implode, you help them come up with a plan to save it. If your department is suddenly told to cut 20% from the budget, you take a haircut along with everyone else.
  1. A good boss shares her story. Your subordinates need and want to learn from you. You’re part coach, part mentor, but all human. They need to hear about your failures as well as your successes, and what you’ve learned from both.
  1. A good boss delegates responsibility. You hear a lot about “the art of effective delegation.” Often, that just means pushing some of the tasks you’re too busy to do down the ladder a rung or two. Instead, give your people responsibility for significant projects and hold them accountable for results.
  1. A good boss lets the stars shine. The quickest way to move up the ladder yourself is to make sure you’re developing the people who are coming along behind you. Encourage people to develop their strengths, whether through training or experience or both. Show them the path ahead. Give them big-picture input, so that they understand the company as a whole, not just their piece of it.
  1. A good boss is a cheerleader for the team. Steve Jobs told the first Macintosh design team that they were there “to make a dent in the universe.” And indeed they did. Your team players need to feel they are on a mission and that you will champion their cause until they make a dent in your universe.

Have you ever experienced Bad Boss Syndrome? If so, what did your boss do? If you’ve been blessed with a good boss, what characteristics did you benefit from? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments section.

Joel Garfinkle is the author of seven books, including “Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level.” He has 17 years of executive-coaching experience, most recently helping a newly promoted director learn to develop and retain top performers while creating successful peer relationships. More than 10,000 people receive his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. Subscribe and you’ll receive his free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now.”.