January 9, 2012

5 Tips: How to Give Constructive Criticism.


“A good friend will always stab you in the front.” ~ Oscar Wilde




Receiving criticism is the hard part, right? You know how to give it.

Someone else screws up, you tell them. Easy.

Not easy.

Getting mad and dumping your feelings about how you’ve been wronged is easy. Giving someone the gift of honest constructive criticism takes more finesse.The biggest difference is intention. If what you want is to help repair a relationship, help someone improve, clear the air about a hurt, you are on the right track. If you are looking to unleash your thoughts on every flaw someone has for the sole purpose of getting it out or making yourself feel better, holster that criticism.

Some people feel comfortable giving criticism. Some do it beautifully, pairing the critique with praise of the things the person does well. Others hold back their criticism, thinking it’s a kindness, but ultimately building walls with all that’s been unsaid.

A few tips for those of us still figuring it out:

1. Deal with your anger first. Skip this step and you won’t be giving the person anything useful. Work it out. Once you’re calm it will be easier to sift through everything.

2. Consider the three gates. An old Arab proverb spoke of three gates our speech should be able to pass through: Is it necessary? Is it kind? Is it true? This is a good way to preempt criticism for the sake of criticism. If you are just in fault-finding mode, you will find it. Telling your sister that she has bad taste in clothes might be true, but will never pass the necessary or kind gates.

3. Do it privately. Not in a group. Definitely not on Facebook. Give it to the person directly, and if at all possible–face to face. This is about respect.

4. Focus on the action, not the individual. Constructive criticism is not a free for all where you disect the person’s every action and character flaw for the past ten years. Focus on your specific concern. Get your shrink speak on…you know, “When you do this, it makes me feel…” It’s honest. It’s useful. It also is what makes criticism constructive rather than destructive.

5. Above all–decency. The point is not to dump on the person who you feel has wronged you. The purpose is to be simple, straightforward and true. Don’t plot how you are going to tell him off or put her in her place. This isn’t about elevating yourself, or debasing someone else. It’s about giving a too rare gift, as compassionately as possible, so that it might be useful. It was last on my list, but keep it first in your mind.

“If people have some story or news to tell somebody else, first of all they are either excited or disappointed. Then they begin to figure out how to tell their news. They develop a plan, which leads them completely away from simply telling it. By the time a person hears the news, it is not news at all, but opinion. It becomes a message of some kind, rather than fresh, straightforward news. Decency is the absence of strategy. It is of utmost importance to realize that the warrior’s approach should be simple-minded sometimes, very simple and straightforward. That makes it very beautiful: you having nothing up your sleeve; therefore a sense of genuineness comes through. That is decency.”

~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Forget personal vendettas.

Let your agenda be decency.


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