Giving Criticism

Everyone is criticized from time to time, and there are times when we feel the need to criticize. This can be an uncomfortable experience for both giver and receiver, and if handled badly it can destroy a relationship.

Our response to criticism is heavily influenced by our self-esteem and our experiences as children. Critical parents tend to raise critical or defensive children. These habits are likely to persist until we learn to recognise and change them.

How do you feel when someone criticizes you? Do you have any triggers – vulnerable, sensitive areas which immediately arouse strong negative feelings in you? Do others pick up on them and use them to get you going?

If you have a need to criticize, try these:

 1. Be clear on your motives

Firstly make sure your reason for criticizing is not because of a weakness you have. Make sure you’re not projecting your feelings onto others.

 2. Choose the time and place carefully

Choosing the time and place improves the chances that the criticism will be taken in the right way. Above all, don’t criticize in front of others. You wouldn’t like it, and neither do they.

3. Criticize their conduct not their  character

Stick to comments on behaviour. Be as specific as you can, describe the effect it has on you and say how you feel about it. Give examples. If you’re referring to a particular incident, test their reaction by opening with a question, e.g. ‘How do you think that went?’ Avoid labels such as lazy, stupid, ignorant, inconsiderate etc. at all costs.

4. Avoid absolutes and generalizations

Avoid statements such as:

  • You’re the most…
  • You always…
  • You never…

They are rarely true and never helpful. These are easily dismissed. E.g. If you say ‘you always…’ and they can cite just one instance when it is not true, your credibility is destroyed.

5. The ‘Critical sandwich’

Start with a positive. Then make your criticism. Finish with an encouraging remark – as long as it is sincere:

‘I’ve been extremely happy with your work, Lucy,  since you’ve joined us. You work hard your work is always nicely presented. However, there is one thing that’s been brought to my attention. You’ve been making a lot of private phone calls during working hours. I know you’ve had personal problems recently, but you must deal with those outside working hours. I’ll be monitoring the number of calls you make from now on. Carry on with the good work; all I ask is that you pay attention to this point. It’s good to have you on our team’.

6. Say what changes you’d like

Spell out the changes you would like in as much detail as you can.

‘When you talk about George like that, I feel angry. I’d rather you didn’t talk about him like that. Promise me that you’ll stop as from now.’

7. Listen

Listen carefully to their response. Check that they understand exactly what you’re criticizing and are not taking it personally. Make sure you fully understand the impact you are making.

Criticism is not something to be ducked. Correctly handled, it can be a valuable learning experience for both parties.

©David Lawrence Preston, 25.6.2016

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