Is Criticism Ever Really Constructive?

Have you ever been around those negative people that tend to be mean under the guise of just trying to “help” by giving “constructive criticism?” I’ve witnessed a few circumstances recently that have made my mouth drop. I’m sure most people have good intentions but perhaps they may not think before they speak. While I think there are times to share information that can be difficult in order to help them (negative feedback), I don’t think there’s anything helpful about criticism (usually intended to attack, blame or hurt others). So, before you decide to share negative feedback with someone consider the following:

  • Examine your intent.Consider why you want to give this feedback. Unless your intent is to help the other person or improve the situation, it may be best to keep your thoughts to yourself. 
  • Consider your relationship.Do you have an understanding/agreement with the other person that would allow you to share negative feedback without damaging the relationship? There are some relationships where giving feedback is implied such as a supervisor or parent, but that doesn’t necessarily give us free reign to tell everyone what is on our minds. If you aren’t sure, ask if it’s okay to share feedback. If the other person isn’t open to it, he/she will most likely not listen and it may make things worse. If they are open to feedback, asking is a sign of respect and they may be more likely to be open and ready to receive feedback.  
  • Find the right time.If you decide it is appropriate and important enough to share feedback, select an appropriate time and place where you can be alone with the other person and give full attention to the conversation.  
  • Share feedback assertively.Stay calm, make eye contact, maintain an open body posture, use statements that begin with “I,” and be direct and respectful.
  • Check out misunderstandings.Before confronting someone, make sure to check that there has been no misunderstanding. This gives you the chance to back down gracefully if the mistake is your own, and it gives the other person the chance to apologize if the mistake is his or her own.
  • Focus on one issue at a time.Be prepared to give details and examples. Focus on the behavior and not the person. 
  • Use the “sandwich” technique. While everyone has weakness we also have strengths. In order to reduce defensiveness, “sandwich” the negative feedback between two positive messages when possible. 
  • Provide ideas, alternatives or solutions.Just telling someone that what they do is annoying doesn’t help them to know how to improve the situation. If they knew what to do, perhaps they would be doing it. 
  • Be prepared for feedback.When we share feedback with others, sometimes they may act defensively and other times they may have valid feedback for us. Keep calm, listen respectfully without interrupting, and show that you are trying to understand by rephrasing what they say to make sure that you received the message they were trying to convey. 

While giving or receiving negative feedback can be difficult, when used as an effort to help someone or improve a situation, it can be a very beneficial tool to strengthen relationships.  

For more information about how to effectively communicate with others see:

Naomi Brower

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