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Six Ways to Make Sure that your Criticism is Constructive
Posted: April 26, 2011

Sometimes, you may need to offer a suggestion for improvment.  BUT it is critically important that you do it right ... because negative criticism is the most dangerous form of communication on Earth. Not done well, it can kill a person emotionally, intellectually, motivationally, and spiritually. And one poorly timed or poorly phrased comment can kill off a person's energy and potential ... sometimes forever.

Here are six questions to ask yourself to make sure that your suggestions or criticism is taken in the way it was intended. 

1. Are you sure the other person NEEDS negative feedback more than positive encouragement?

Good, healthy, constructive criticism is nothing more than guidance and coaching. And we all need that once in a while. We need to learn from our mistakes and develop our potential.

Unfortunately, some criticism is discouraging rather than encouraging. It may come out as a snide remark, or it comes out with the wrong tone of voice. Stanley Horowitz acknowledged that when he said, "Nothing lowers the level of conversation more than raising the voice."

So you have to ask yourself what is more likely to change the other person ... a negative comment that redirects his behavior or a positive comment that motivates better behavior. Some of the people in your life have low self-esteem, and they desperately need to hear the positive.

2. Are you sure you are giving the negative feedback to truly HELP the other person?

Even though there have been a number of popular books that tell you to "look out for #1" or "win through intimidation," that is not the motivation behind constructive criticism.

If you want the other person to really listen to you, he/she needs to know that you're on his/her side, that you are sharing the negative feedback because you care about his/her, her life, her job, and/or his/her future.

3. Are you sure your feedback is FRESH?

If you give someone the same piece of negative feedback over and over again ... over a period of time ... it should be obvious that your approach is not working. In fact, the more you nag someone, the greater the chances are that he will keep on doing what you do not want.

4. Are you sure the other person is ABLE to change the behavior you are criticizing?

It is easy to assume that the other person could change if he really wanted to. That is not always the case. Just telling someone that what he is doing is not good enough may not be enough to bring about the change you desire.

In addition to the negative feedback you give someone, you may also need to give the other person some training and motivation ... or he may not even be capable of making the changes you suggest.

5. Are you willing to NEGOTIATE a solution?

Some people just give their negative criticism or say their piece and walk away. That approach appears to be more like vengeful dumping rather than constructive conflict resolution.

Check your attitude. Are you willing to work with the other person to find a mutually satisfactory solution?

Learn to think through both sides of an issue ... as if you were a counselor or mediator. When you do that, you will find yourself responding in a way that will bring about a peaceful solution to the conflict much more quickly. In other words, instead of merely criticizing someone, involve him or her in the discussion to find a mutually acceptable agreement.

6. Are you sure the other person is READY to receive your criticism?

Maybe the last thing the other person wants to hear ... or can handle ... at a particular time is a piece of criticism. The other person's cup may be too full to take in anything else.

If that is the case, when he/she hears criticism, he/she may tune you out, get defensive, or even bring up some of your faults ... none of which helps anything. Maybe the other person has had a terrible day ... with a flat tire on the way to work and a computer crash that caused him/her to fall even further behind in his/her work. Maybe the last thing he/she can handle is a piece of your "constructive criticism."

So there you have it ... 6 critical questions you need to ask yourself BEFORE you criticize anybody else. Let these questions filter out the destructive elements in your criticism so what comes is truly constructive, helpful, and non-defense producing. They will tell you HOW to do it right.

In conclusion, here is a shorthand version on WHEN you should give negative criticism. The answer to the following three questions must be "yes". The three questions are as follows: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

2011 Reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman's Tuesday tips.

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