Volume 9 Issue 3 Summer 2007
Giving and receiving feedback is an - that a range of reactions is normal. In careful examination of motives before
essential part of communicating well, the professional world, especially, no one diving in. “Make sure that your intention
both in the workplace and within wants emotional fireworks: a meltdown or is to help with a problem and not to
personal relationships. Developing a blowup. And so avoiding confrontation humiliate, manipulate or exact revenge.”
good constructive criticism skills keeps often seems the easiest choice. Why (See “Checklist: Giving Constructive
interactions with colleagues and loved schedule a performance review with Feedback” for step-by-step tips.)
ones positive and productive. When we Crying-Jag Joe, if he’s just going to burst
learn how to make suggestions in a well- into tears - even when you have only good In the workplace, Forni and other
reasoned and thoughtful manner, there is things to say? Why bother to show Hot- researchers emphasize that establishing
a much better chance that behaviors will Tempered Harriet a better way to format an environment of positive reinforcement
change and performance will improve. the spreadsheet, if she’s just going to vent helps create a feedback-friendly climate.
for an hour like Mt. Vesuvius? Work done well deserves praise and
Nevertheless, the process of delivering recognition, but employers, managers
and hearing criticism is rarely easy. These are overdrawn examples, of course. and coworkers often overlook the simple
Differences in communication styles But the fear of confrontation can develop step of consistently acknowledging good
are magnified in sensitive situations. into a paralyzing inertia of avoidance. performance. The desire for approval is a
How each person handles praise and Eventually communication breaks down basic human need, going back to infancy,
reacts to criticism stems from deeply entirely, and with it, the effectiveness of that we never outgrow. Appreciation
ingrained patterns that are hard to break. a business can erode significantly. The and recognition correlate strongly to
Someone who brushes off compliments same process can drain the vitality from employee motivation and morale. On the
may struggle with self-esteem. Certain a friendship or deaden a marriage. But other hand, Forni cites U. S. Department
cultural and religious traditions downplay by establishing a healthy climate for of Labor statistics that show “Feeling
individual achievement, or cast pride in constructive feedback, workplaces and unappreciated at work is a leading cause
a sinful light. An adult who interprets a relationships set themselves up to thrive. of leaving a job.”
gentle suggestion as a stinging personal
attack may have been scarred in Professor P. M. Forni, cofounder of In an environment where positive
childhood by a hypercritical parent or a the Johns Hopkins University Civility behavior is regularly rewarded,
schoolyard bully. Project, advocates powerfully for people constructive criticism doesn’t feel
to communicate both honestly and threatening. Critiques become
We can’t necessarily know how past humanely. He believes constructive performance-building tools: ways to focus
experiences criticism is “a welcome on skill development, and set
make giving opportunity to learn.” But higher individual and team
and receiving he also recommends goals. The entire
feedback a cautious and
it is essential
- and accept
(Continued from front)
cHecKList: giving constructive feedbAcK
workplace benefits from keeping the
The essence of constructive criticism is ¸Show empathy. Communicate
air clear and not allowing unexpressed to focus on behavior, not personality: to understanding and compassion. If
negative feelings and resentments to give feedback on what someone does, appropriate, briefly share a time when
build up. Ultimately, a healthy climate not who they are. Negative personal you experienced and overcame a similar
of ongoing feedback leads to reduced attacks demoralize the recipient, leading difficulty.
stress and improved job satisfaction. to a defensive response that prevents ¸Avoid negativity. Never engage in
Now who can criticize that? fruitful discussion. Meanwhile, they name-calling or adopt an accusatory tone.
clearly establish the attacker’s failings: A cycle of blame and recrimination stalls
a poor communicator who may suffer forward progress.
from insecurity or other problems. As ¸Explore solutions. Suggest - or
hANDlING CRItICIsm psychologist Eric Hoffer once wrote, brainstorm together about - possible
wIth GRACE “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of remedies.
The ability to take input from others strength.” ¸End positively. Establish a plan of
shows a healthy sense of self. As action, even if the plan is for each party to
students, we learn the most from In Choosing Civility, P. M. Forni outlines think more and meet again later.
teachers who cover our papers in red, the basic steps for making criticism both
offering detailed corrections, comments constructive and effective: Placing the emphasis on “constructive”
and encouragement to keep improving ¸Start positively. Point out work takes some of the sting away from the
our skills. As adults, we become less well done, but remember not to sound “criticizing.” How can this difficult
comfortable at accepting feedback, patronizing. Only sincere compliments are conversation lay the foundation for
which is no longer part of our daily meaningful. productive change? What solutions can
routine. ¸Identify issues. Support with specific you build together? Even the toughest
examples, incidents and observations. critique should contain a blueprint for
To take criticism well, it helps to think ¸Remain calm and focused. Stick to moving forward. In the end, the wisest
like students again and remember the topic at hand. Don’t get into past giver of feedback should find a way to be
that the outside perspective often has grievances or general dissatisfactions. an architect of hope.
great value. We rarely execute our
jobs without support. Even world- CLook for the kernel of truth. Even R E s O U R C E B O X
class athletes need trainers - external in a negative attack, offered without the
• P.M. Forni, Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of
assistance to shape their natural gifts best intentions, there might be something Considerate Conduct. [New York: St. Martin’s
and focus their hard work. Criticism can valuable to learn. Griffin, 2002.] Concise, eloquent guide. Outlines
simple strategies for behaving and communicating
be another form of coaching: showing CPostpone your response. Ask for time to more effectively in daily life, at home and at work.
us avenues for improvement. It isn’t reflect, and schedule another meeting to go • Christina Osborne, Managing Your Boss. [New York:
necessarily easy to look at it this way, over the feedback. DK Publishing, 2003.] Short, readable, accessible
especially when the message is delivered CRespond appropriately to inappropriate handbook. Full of tips, hints and checklists on
working more productively with this important
roughly. And sometimes the feedback criticism. If some criticism seems colleague.
contains uncomfortable truths that we’d unwarranted after reflection, respond • Ken Langdon and Christina Osborne, Performance
rather deny. calmly and assertively. Focus on reaching Reviews. [New York: DK Publishing, 2001.] Like
Managing Your Boss, part of DK’s handy “Essential
resolution and understanding, not retaliating Managers” series. Step-by-step guide helps workers
Here are some tips for handling for perceived slights. and supervisors
criticism gracefully: understand, improve
and benefit from the
CAcknowledge that you’re taking the Learning to process and incorporate review process.
information seriously. Use positive constructive feedback is a powerful tool for
body language, maintain eye contact and improving job performance. An even greater
practice active listening (by restating sign of strength, however, is the ability GIVING AND
key points, for example). to handle poorly administered negative RECEIVING
CAvoid becoming defensive. Don’t criticism. A sense of humor helps, and FEEDBACK
question motives or counterattack. remembering that adversity is sometimes the CConstructive criticism - thoughtful input
CDistance yourself from the situation, best teacher. The situations where we learn about making positive behavioral change-
if necessary. Listen as if hearing a the most are sometimes the toughest ones -improves the health of work and personal
critique of another person’s work and - just like those challenging classes back in relationships.
then assess it honestly. school.
CIndividuals respond to praise and criticism
differently, based on long-standing personal
eAP services and cultural issues, so giving and receiving
EAP is here to help. For more information about feedback must always be approached with
articles in this newsletter, or any other EAP- sensitivity and respect.
related topic, please call one of our trained CConsistently acknowledging and praising
counselors at our toll-free number: good work boosts morale. A supportive
800-287-2173 environment makes employees more
www.investeap.org receptive to hearing constructive criticism.