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					Volume 9                                                  Issue 3                                                Summer 2007
                               constructive criticism
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
easier or
harder
for work
colleagues,
friends or
partners. But
it is essential
to understand
- 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.

				
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