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Criticism at Work: 10 Tips for Giving It (as seen in Longevity Magazine)

First up, let’s ditch the term constructive criticism. While we’re at it, let’s ditch criticism altogether. It’s harsh. It’s negative. And no matter how you frame it, criticism cuts confidence off at the knees. When you’re down on self-esteem, chances are slim to none that you’re going to be driving, striving, and giving your all at work, right?

So, let’s talk about feedback instead, or what the iOpener Institute for People and Performance has coined FeedForward, a term that embodies what it means to nurture an individual’s ability to achieve their potential. According to the iOpener Institute’s research, FeedForward and self-belief are tightly linked. So, whether positive or developmental, when given clearly, fairly, and with actionable outcomes, FeedForward helps to heighten confidence and trust, both of which build high performance.

  1. It’s not what you say, it’s how you set out saying it. How you introduce the FeedForward you want to give affects how it will be received. Being on the receiving end of poorly delivered FeedForward can leave us feeling judged, dejected and de-motivated. “Can I give you feedback?” is one-sided and calculated to make many people bristle. “Would you be curious to know what I think?” Much better. It invites dialogue and shows a genuine interest in and respect for your recipient.
  2. Intention. Intention. Intention. What positive outcome do you want? For you {I want to talk about how…}, for the other {I’d like to understand what was happening for you in this specific situation…}, and for both of you {and I’d like to clarify how we do things going forward so we both get…}? Set the framework for what you’re feeding forward before you start.
  3. Stick to the facts, from all sides. There’s always more than one perspective in any situation. Consider yours, get the thoughts of others who were impacted by your recipient’s actions, and get the perspective of your recipient too. Stay open, be specific in feeding forward and offer evidence to back up your perspective.
  4. Acknowledge what’s working well first. Jessica Pryce-Jones, in reference to Marcial Losada’s “Losada Line”, highlights the value of the 3:1 ratio – 3 pieces of positive feedback for every 1 developmental piece. You’re less likely to raise defences. And people appreciate genuine praise; it makes them feel good, which makes you feel good too.
  5. What could they do differently? What would work better? Answer these questions in a direct and compassionate manner. Yes, FeedForward is about the task, but remember there’s a human being on the receiving end; they must be left feeling capable of delivering better next time.
  6. Make sure there is a next time. Champion your recipient. So s/he didn’t get it right this time. That’s what second chances are for. Help them get back in the saddle and give them an opportunity to remedy the negative feedback. We learn, we grow, we improve.
    Human potential is best nurtured through encouragement. Twitter Bird Icon: Neshika's Tweetable
  7. Be a solutions-seeker. Once you’ve addressed the problem, don’t harp on it. What’s done is done. You want to focus on actionable solutions now. This is the “what has to happen next on both sides?” part of the conversation. Your role here is to support and challenge. Your recipient’s role is to own the task/project/relationship for which you are giving FeedForward and come up with measurable action steps to improve.
  8. Keep your door open. Let your recipient know it’s okay to share their progress with you regularly. You want them to do this so you can support them in their development. Refer to point #6. You’re part of the solution. Honour your part.
  9. Be courageous. It takes guts to FeedForward, especially the tough, potentially conflict-provoking kind. And doing it anyway is an act of nobility and service to another’s potential.
  10. Learn and grow yourself. You may not get it right the first time, or the second. Take note of what works and what doesn’t when feeding forward. Integrate and keep going.

Your honesty is needed. So is your compassion and encouragement. Be a champion of human potential.

Note: This piece was featured in Longevity Magazine’s 20th Birthday Edition IV 2013, and was initially written for the Business Results Group in relation to The Science of Happiness at Work™.

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