The words Constructive Criticism always make me cringe. There just doesn’t seem to be anything constructive about criticism. The dictionary defines criticism as the act of passing judgment as to the merits of qualities, values and abilities. I have yet to see where judging someone has helped to promote their further development and advancement or improve outcome. Instead, criticism comes across as judging, condemning or blaming and has negative effects such as employee shut down, lack of confidence and decline in performance. Yet employers and managers continue to utilize constructive criticism to promote employee growth and change. They continue to do so because of misconceptions about effectiveness and not out of maliciousness.
It’s time to transform the criticism part into a constructive conversation. A constructive conversation includes the following fundamentals and has two role players. The two role players are the Approacher and Approachee. The Approacher is the person conveying and enquiring and the Approachee it the person receiving and responding.
The Approacher’s Role
A constructive conversation is always in private and starts with positive communication from the Approacher. The Approacher shares what they appreciate about the other person. They build up instead of tear down by focusing on the other person’s strengths. A positive conversation has a minimum of a three to one ratio. Three positives for every one growth opportunity. Research shows that exceptional relationships have a five to one ratio. You may be thinking; what if I can’t find 5 positives. Every person has a least 5 strengths you can highlight! We will discover their strengths when we shift our focus from their weaknesses to their strengths. How ironic that our strengths are just taken for granted and minimized whereas our weaknesses are highlighted.
Be specific instead of generalizing. Focus more on objective points than subjective opinions. Just saying “I don’t like it or you’re doing this wrong” is not helpful. On the other hand, stating the specific strengths or skills you would like to see developed is helpful.
Don’t make it personal. Talk about issue not the person. Avoid saying, “you need to”. Start the conversation with the word I instead of saying you. For example, “I noticed,” “I have seen,” “I observed,” or when sharing feedback from others, “I have had reported to me.” “I” conversations are issue-focused instead of person-focused. Always consider how your words may impact the other person. Ask yourself; how can I say what I need to say and be respectful of how they may feel.
Keep your energy neutral and come with a mindset of care, curiosity and concern instead of judgment and criticism. Never have a conversation when you are angry or frustrated or your emotions will rule the conversation. Instead take a few minutes to process and get calm. Start out by making eye contact with the other person. Be mindful of tone and body language as well as words. A tone of care and concern communicates a sense of importance and provides the appropriate level of sincerity to the conversation. Avoid using sarcasm or derogatory words or the content of the conversation will get lost in the harshness. Once you say something it cannot be taken back. An apology doesn’t mean we forget. The old nursery rhyme that goes sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me, is not true. Words can destroy even the best of relationships.
Break your feedback down into key points. Don’t give your feedback as one big lump. Break it down into various key points, then give your feedback point by point.
Give examples of each point. What are the exact issues, situations or examples where the person exhibits the behaviors you highlighted? There is no need to highlight every single one. – just disclosing a couple of examples per point will be sufficient. The purpose is to bring the person’s awareness to things which he/she may not be aware of and clearly illustrate what you mean.
Be timely! Try to address issues/concerns as they happen or within 24 hours of the occurrence. I have actually seen employers make a list of everything an employee has done wrong or needs to improve on for the year and go over it at their annual review. It reminds me of Santa Claus’s naughty list! It’s no wonder why reviews get a bad rap!
Ask the other person what they need from you (communication, support, training, practice) to be able to achieve the desired results. Together discuss and agree on a resolution.
The Approachee’s Role
The aproachee is to start out by just listening and not taking offense. It is important to recognize that the approacher’s intent is good and to realize that it is not easy to approach someone.
Listen intently before responding. Make eye contact with the other person. Instead of defending, deflecting or blaming someone else consider how your actions or lack of actions affected the outcome. Be honest with your response.
Acknowledge you heard and understand them. Never assume. If you are unsure ask questions until you clearly understand. If you are thinking I think they mean this…ask more questions.
Don’t take it personal. If the concern pertains to the patients, the practice or the team it is necessary to address. It can be difficult to hear when we are not meeting the standards or expectations. However, it is necessary to address in order to create and sustain a happier, healthier and higher performing culture.
Take it serious. It may not seem important or be a priority to you but it is for the other person.
Control your emotions. If you are upset don’t just walk off in anger or frustration. Instead, let them know that you need a little time to process the information they shared and you will respond later that day. Try respond within 24 hours.
If you are on the receiving end of anger or frustration ask the person if they are okay. This is their cue to reset their energy to calm and neutral. If they do not dial it down and you are still feeling attacked let them know. For example, I feel attacked or I feel disrespected when you: raise your voice; roll your eyes; are being sarcastic with your words.
Share what you need (communication, support, training, practice) to be able achieve the desired results. Together discuss and agree on a solution and make a commitment.
In the end it’s all about results! If we want to be effective at getting the results we desire, a constructive conversation always trumps criticism!