Cheat Sheet: Positive Constructive Criticism

constructive criticism

Years back, I had a friend in Memphis known as “Change”. Never really knew him by any other name? He earned the nickname “Change” because many of his conversations included grand finale explanations of how his hometown changed the world. Memphis changed the world’s music, American civil rights, global overnight package delivery, material use of cotton, on and on!  Now step back and consider a few of the negative perceptions people may have about Memphis; Step further back for an even bigger picture to find the city’s own distinctly rich value in change. When you change the focus of how you view a picture, new details become more visible.

Effective constructive criticism can change what people think and do; thus, positive criticism can be the birthplace of change. That motivation can counter-act emotions keeping people from implementing new ideas which unlock opportunities. Consciously avoiding those personal attacks and the old “blame game”, we find effective criticism can be liberating and a wonderful tool for growth.

The objective of constructive criticism is to improve the behavior of a person, while clearly avoiding personal attacks and blaming of any kind. This criticism should be carefully framed in language that’s acceptable to the individual, often acknowledging that critics may very well be wrong in their assessments. Insults and/or hostile language is to be avoided along with phrases such as “I feel” or “it’s my understanding that”.. We should make every effort to consider what things would look like from the other person’s vantage point. Good constructive critics work hard to stand in the shoes of the individual being criticized.

So what does good look like?

  • focus on the positive; be motivating: you not only send messages about how you are receiving the other’s message, but about how you feel about that person and your relationship.
  • be specific; allow the individual to know exactly what behavior is being considered and what is expected.
  • be active when being objective; If your criticism is objective without bias, it’s harder to discount or resist.
  • avoid evaluative types of language; Your goal is to remove defensiveness and adjust behaviors. By doing so any form of “blame” must be ended to ensure proper engagement.

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