The Ultimate Guide to Giving and Taking Constructive Criticism

The Ultimate Guide to Giving and Taking Constructive Criticism

 

Life is full of give and takes.  But when it comes to criticism, most people would rather give than take.  People react differently when they are criticized.  Some people get angry while others may lose confidence in themselves.  Then there are some who can take criticism and apply it in a positive way.  My goal in this article is to help you become one of those people.

Giving criticism can be as difficult as taking criticism.  If your intentions are good but the delivery is not, your message will not be well received.  When that happens, the person will not have the opportunity to improve.  Instead, the feedback may be seen as an attack.  That is why understanding how to give criticism in a constructive way is so important.

Magic of Feedback

Getting feedback is a valuable tool for self improvement.  Sometimes it is hard to hear that you are not perfect but the truth is, you’re not.  When I was a child, I couldn’t stand to hear that I was doing something incorrectly.  Now, I constantly ask for feedback because I realize that it really does help me improve myself.

If you are going to try to do anything worthwhile in life, you will be criticized.  Even if you choose not to do anything worthwhile, you may still be a target of criticism.  People who are unable to handle feedback well are unlikely to reach their full potential.  They miss out on the experiences and insights of others.  Learning how to take criticism constructively is big step towards improving your performance and effectiveness in all areas of your life.

I have decided to collect as much information on this topic as possible and I’ve separated them so that you will have a situation followed by how to give and take constructive criticism in that situation,

 

For the Friend-How to address an issue with a friend without losing them.

For the Blogger-For all of you bloggers out there, this will help you to handle negative feedback.

For the Artist/Performer-This is for artist, musicians, speakers, and anyone else who presents their craft to an audience.

For the Employee-If you would like to know how to talk to a fellow employee or boss about their habits or actions, this section is for you.

For the Employer-Being in charge means that you will have to give criticism and sometimes it means that you need to take some too.

For the Romantic Relationship-Giving feedback the wrong way in this situation could lead to a major argument.  Learn how to dish it and take it in this section.

For the Friend

Friends are supposed to be able to talk to each other open and honestly.  But giving criticism the wrong way may offend a very important person in your life.  Saying “no offense” before or after a harsh criticism won’t make it any less painful.  Here are some ways to give and take constructive criticism without ruining a friendship.

How to Give

  1. Have their best interest in mind-Keep in mind that you are trying to improve the life of your friend.  It is best to take your personal feelings out of the equation.  Do everything that you can to ensure that the person is benefiting from you critique.  Think about how you would like to be approached in the same situation.

  2. Focus on the action not the person-Your friend may be doing something that can be damaging to their life or future.  That doesn’t necessarily make them a terrible person.  When you critique a friend, focus on the action that needs to be addressed instead of the person’s nature. 

  3. Be Cool-Stay calm and collected while delivering your criticism.  Keep your emotions in line so that you do not stir up negative emotions in the other person.  This will also help you avoid tempers from being flared.

How to Take

  1. Ask clarifying questions-Ask questions to clarify exactly what is being said. To make sure that you fully understand what is being said, ask the critique to be specific.  Doing this will enable an open dialog between you and the critic. 

  2. Thank your critic-Thank your critic not only for their critique, but for their friendship.  It may be hard to thank someone who has just criticized you, but take the time to genuinely thank the person for taking the time to talk with you.  Remember, your friends want the best for you; show them that you appreciate their thoughtfulness.

  3. Be Cool-This is not a typo.  Both sides should be calm and cool when having this type of conversation.  As long as both sides keep their cool, everything will work itself out.

 

“If you refuse criticism you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept criticism you are on the road to fame” Proverbs 13:18

For the Blogger

As a writer, it is a very satisfying feeling to know that your work is appreciated by those who took the time to read it.   If you are a blogger, you know how good it feels to get a comment or email from someone telling you how much they liked your post and how much it has helped them.  It is encouraging and fulfilling to know that you are making a difference in the lives of others by sharing your knowledge and experiences.

As a blogger, you are open to criticism by comment section, email, or social bookmarking. I have been privileged enough of having some of my post reach the “most popular list” on Stumbleupon and Delicious.  There was one post in particular that did very well on Stumbleupon.  It did so well that I decided to visit the Stumbleupon comment page for that post.  It was good to see the variety of people from all over the world leaving good and positive comments. 

I felt my euphoric bubble bust when I got to the third page of comments.  Apparently, one SU user didn’t like the post and felt the world should know about it.  My first reactions was, “Man, I spent days writing that article.”  Then I began to put things in perspective and I did not allow one negative comment ruin the other 2 dozen that were positive.

Since bloggers tend to create communities, it is also best to know how to critique your fellow blogger without offending them.

How to Give

  1. Positive Language-The way a critique is worded can make a world of difference.  Instead of saying “I don’t like..” or “I hate it when.. ” use positive language such as “One thing that would make this blog even better is..” or “I would love to see..”.

  2. Send an Email -If you are truly trying to suggest some changes that could be made to the blog or the content, sending an email may be better received by the blogger.  It is a more personal approach and it appears less like you are shouting your disapproval to the world.  Most blog comments are moderated anyway so if you do choose to vocalize your issues with the blog, post, or blogger, in a negative way, it is easy for the moderator to delete the comment or ban the user.

How to Take

  1. Get a Second Opinion– The tendency we may have when getting a negative comment is to think that it represents the majority.  People tend to be more vocal when they dislike something.  The truth is that the majority of readers that like your content will not comment. 

If you are truly bothered about the negative comments about a particular post, ask your readers about it.  If the post was truly offensive or of poor quality, your regular readers will tell you.  Once you get a collection of opinions, you can get a better feel for how your visitors really felt about the post.  More times than not, you will find that the comment was not valid and should not be taken seriously.  Getting a second, third and fourth opinion is a great way to get a feel of how you are being perceived by your visitors.  I love the quote by Pastor Chuck Swindoll,

If a man calls you an ass, ignore him.  If another man calls you an ass, it’s time to get a saddle.”

  1. Allow honesty but not negativity-I have not had an issue with negative comments on my site.  Some bloggers feel as though they should post every comment that is submitted to their blog.  I feel as though a blog is a person’s online home, microphone, and journal.  The blogger is not obligated to allow negativity on their blog.

However, it is beneficial to allow honest feedback.  I have no problem with a visitor disagreeing with something that I wrote.  Allowing your readers to be honest with you can strengthen the bond between writer and reader.  We bloggers also want our readers to feel as though they are not going to be censored and can have an open discussion with us and other readers.

For the Artist/ Performer

For artist and performers, criticism can be extremely personally.  Artist and performers see their work as a reflection of themselves.  To criticize a piece of art work, a song, or a performance that is subpar can sometimes be taken as a personal attack.  This will help you deliver bad new gently to an artist or performer.

How to Give

  1. Look through their eyes-Before critiquing an artist, it is important to know where they are coming from.  Ask questions around the work to see if your interpretation and their intention were the same.  It may be that getting more insight behind the inspiration, history, and motive gives you a better perspective on the piece.  From there, your constructive criticism will be better informed and you will be able to critique from higher level of understanding.

If the performer is a singer, speaker, comedian, etc, it is important to consider the type of venue that they were in and other factors that may have affected their performance.  Singing in a studio is much more different than singing in front of a crowd of 200.  Put yourself in the performers place and imagine how you would have reacted to the other factors that may have had an affect the performance. 

  1. Mention the vital few-Being nit-picky is not an effective way to critique an artist.  There are usually just a few vital parts that need to be improved.  Focusing on those parts instead of pointing out every flaw will help them gain a better understanding of how to improve their overall craft.

  2. Be specific– Saying, “that was terrible” doesn’t really help a performer improve.   Constructive criticism should help to build the person’s self-esteem and help them improve their craft.  They will not be able to do that unless they know exactly the areas where they need to improve.

Offer specific areas of improvement where the performer can go back and examine.  For example, if a performer has a tendency to fidget, pointing out that particular area of improvement is more beneficial than saying, “you looked really uncomfortable up there”.

How to Take

  1. Know how you are perceived-Understanding how you or your art comes across to people is a great skill to have as an artist.  That understanding will enable you to know why a person may have criticized you.  Seeing yourself through the eyes of others will help you understand why a particular person gave the kind of feedback that they did.

  2. Consider Your Audience-With performances, it is common for you to appear in front of a variety of audiences.  Sometimes, your audience is not your target market.  For example, if you are a classical pianist performing at a high school, you may not get the same reaction you would get if you were performing at a symphony.   Before taking offense to the criticism, take into account the audience that you are in front of.  Perhaps your particular brand of art is not what they prefer.

  3. Let it Motivate You-No matter the reason for the critique, use it to motivate you.  Whether you want to prove the critics wrong or if you generally want to be better, use the constructive criticism to help you perform better. 

 

For the Employee

Critiques are common in the work place.  As an employee, it may be very difficult to give criticism to another employee.  It is even more difficult to tell your boss that there are things that they can improve on.  If you haven’t been in either of these situations, one day you will be.  Here is how to handle the situation with grace.

Howto Give

  1. Neverpresent a problem without a solution-In the workplace, complaints are common among associates.  At your job, you’ve probably heard the same complaints repeated over and over.  These protests seem to get passed around from one employee to another but nothing ever seems to get done about them.

Habit 2 of the 7 habits of highly effective people, made famous by Stephen Covey, is to begin with the end in mind.  Presenting a solution after presenting a problem shows that you have thought the issue through to the end.  Even if your suggestion is not the answer to the problem, the fact that you have a solution encourages dialogue amongst the other employees and managers.

  1. Admit that there are things that you don’t know-As an employee; it is hard to criticize what your bosses are doing.  This is because there may be many aspects about the business that you are not taking into consideration.  When an issue arises that needs to be addressed, admitting that you don’t know everything is a good way to have your critique taken in a positive way.
  2. Praise, then critique-This technique works whether giving criticism to a fellow employee or your boss.  As I stated before, criticism can sometimes been seen as complaining.  To soften the critique, offer praise to everyone involved.

Let your fellow employees know how you appreciate their hard work or how well they did on a particular project.  Mention to your boss how much you appreciate them for taking the time to meet with you.  From there, it will become easier to present the critique.

 

How to Take

  1. Look for what may be trueThe truth is that your employer and fellow employees may see things that you are not aware of.  Look for the things that may be true in their critique and begin to apply them to your job. 
  2. Don’t take it personalTry not to look at the criticism as a personal attack.  There may be a portion of your performance that needs to be improved.  That doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you as a person.  Look at the critique for what is really is, an opportunity to improve your work performance.

For the Employer

One of the main responsibilities as an employer is the ability to tell your people when they are not performing well.  I became an employer last year when I hired two assistants to help me with my small business.  It was an eye opening experience for me to manage my team. 

Donald Trump makes firing someone look easy but the first time I had to do it was very uncomfortable. One of my assistants was not performing up to the requirements of her position.  After repeated warnings, I had to let her go.  It really came as no surprise to her as she knew that her performance was lacking. 

Although my critiques did not change her performance, I did learn how to give criticism to an employee and those skills have had a great affect on my current assistants.

How to Give

  1. Focus on Business not behavior-If the issue you are having is strictly with the person’s performance, make sure to emphasize how it is affecting the business.   
  2. Remind them of priorities-A good way to critique without offending is to remind the employee of their priorities when it comes to the business.  For example, instead of telling them that they have been slacking lately, saying “Client ‘x’ is vital to our company so we need to make sure that the project is done right and on time.”  This will reinforce how important that person’s job is and will help them see where the priorities of the company are.
  3. Mention their strengths-When critiquing an employee, make sure to mention their strengths and what makes them valuable to the company.  Letting them know that they are contributing to the success of the business is a confidence booster and may foster a change in their performance.

How to Take

  1. Encourage Feedback-As a boss it is easy to think that you are doing everything the right way.  Many times, however, your employees may have suggestions that could help improve the company or help you become a better leader. Begin to encourage feedback by directly asking your staff for their insight.  Employee suggestion programs work well also.
  2. Turn it into an opportunity-Reacting to a critique in a positive way can create a good opportunity for change.  Use the critique to adjust the way you do things and you may create a better working environment.

 

For the Romantic Relationship

No other life situation challenges the range of human emotion like a romantic relationship.  In a relationship, the feelings of love, frustration, jealousy, and then love again, can all be experienced in one day.  This is why the way we give and take criticism with our partner is important.

When we are criticized by our partner it seems to be more difficult to deal with.  It can sometimes feel as though we are being attacked by someone who is supposed to be in our corner.  This can be a devastating feeling and can lead to negative reactions that do not change the possible truth of the criticism. 

How to Give

  1. Examine yourself first-This is a vital way to avoid an argument.  Before you bring up an issue that you have with your partner, make sure that you have examined yourself to make sure that the issue is valid.  This will help you avoid coming down on your partner for something that may have nothing to do with them.
  2. Emphasis Your Feeling-It is hard to argue with someone’s feelings.  Express how you feel as opposed to pointing out what the other person has done.  This way you will be able to communicate how you are feeling and it won’t appear as though you are blaming the other person for the issue.
  3. Be Sensitive-Remember that you are dealing with a human being that has emotions.  Be sensitive with the delivery of your critique.  Your critique may still get a negative response if the person’s feelings are hurt but be prepared to react with sensitivity and not defensively.
  4. Start positive and end positive-Try to sandwich your criticism in between compliments.  Start your conversation on a positive note and then bring up the issue.  After you have said what is bothering you, close by reinforcing how important that person is to you and how you do not want the issue to affect the relationship.

How to Take

 

  1. Don’t Shoot the Messenger-The person you are with may have a genuine issue with something in your relationship that needs to be addressed.  Make sure to focus on the issue and not the person.
  2. Be Open-Your partner may have a valid reason for their critique.  Be open to listening to their argument.  Fight the urge to argue.  Soak in the critique and you may learn more about yourself and the other person’s perspective on the relationship.
  3. Talk About It-Take this opportunity to talk about the issue and bring it to the light.  Holding in your thoughts and feelings may end up hurting the relationship in the long run.
  4. Avoid a Counter Attack-Sometimes a person may critique you in a way that seemthem s like an attack.  In this situation it is best to avoid attacking back.  All that does is insure that there will be an argument. 

How do you deal with criticism? How do you give criticism effectively?


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  • http://www.enriching-life.com Michaela

    Dear Ralph! Wow, what an article! I personally love feedback. It’s a great chance to learn and to feel encouraged and pushed to try out new things or just simple to do things differently. Thx for all your effort and thx for sharing this with us! 

  • ralphjp

    Thanks so much for the kind words Michaela!

  • marium

    Amazing! I like it 🙂

  • http://potential2success.com/ ralphjp

    Thanks! And thanks for visiting 🙂