How to give criticism and be heard

We all know someone who thinks their opinion is absolutely invaluable. Whether you’ve asked for their thoughts or not, they’re going to give them to you. And what’s even more annoying than the unsolicited advice, is that they usually give criticism rudely! You’d think that with so much practice, someone would have criticised their way of giving criticism! Well, that’s what I’m going to do right now.

What did you say to me?!

There’s a difference between giving feedback that is constructive and giving criticism that is destructive. Destructive criticism involves voicing your opinion in some of the following ways:

  1. Shouting
  2. Insulting (name-calling)
  3. Belittling (mocking)
  4. Shaming (finding fault with the person instead of with their behaviour/product)

When criticism is given in any of the above ways it can cause the receiver to shut down. The receiver becomes unable to take in the information in a way that they can use for their improvement. Instead, the learning that occurs is the imprinting of the uncomfortable incident, rather than the message that was trying to be conveyed.

Aaah, okay…

Constructive criticism comes from a place of wanting to empower the receiver. It goes like this:

  1. Feedback is constructive when it takes a holistic perspective. “The concept of your essay is so clever and I love the jovial narration. I think the punctuation can be improved because some sentences become a little lost in translation.” Do you see how this criticism giver does not only focus on the negative? They voice what they like, as well as what they think can be improved. Doing this contributes to your receiver’s growth in a positive way and makes them more open to your opinion.
  2. View the individual you are trying to teach as being a “work-in-progress”. If in your mind, the listener should know better, or should be a final product, then of course, you will feel frustrated with them. But if you perceive them as constantly being “in formation”, you see that they are trying their best and can give feedback from a more empathic and less frustrated place.
  3. Refer to areas that could be improved as “growing edges”. “If I could point out a possible growing edge…”, “Your growing edge here is…”. This phrase encompasses the concept of being a work-in-progress, therefore a person has not failed or passed. Instead, there is always room for growth.
  4. Be specific. Whether positive or negative, feedback is most helpful when it is specific. “Some parts of your thesis are difficult to understand” can leave the thesis-writer feeling more confuzzled. Instead try, “The part where you speak about… is unclear because… “

If we want to live in a world where people build each other up instead of tear each other down, we need to be aware of how we communicate with people. Criticism is one of the best tools for growth, and we shouldn’t be afraid to seek it or to give it. We just need to check in with ourselves and make sure we are giving criticism for the right reasons. Are we giving it with the intention of helping the other to grow? If not, maybe we should take a few breaths and feel what’s happening inside ourselves.

With love,

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