Giving and Receiving Constructive Criticism Effectively
By: Shaila Anjum
Being receptive to constructive criticism can be quite difficult for various reasons. A qualitative study conducted with 38 undergraduate students revealed high preference for there to be a close relationship to the person giving constructive criticism, receiver must perceive the feedback as caring, understanding and almost passionate to show the concern for their well-being and feedback must be appropriate to the receiver (C. J. Fong et. al., 2018). Though we may have preferences on how we prefer to receive constructive criticism, sometimes the best criticism isn’t the easiest to digest. You may feel attacked and defensive when someone tells you that you wither handled something incorrectly or just the way your thought process is about something is incorrect. Being told these things about ourselves, especially if it’s something you thought you were doing very well and have a lot of pride in, it’s not easy to digest with a smile. Reactions to unsolicited criticism that makes us feel low about ourselves is natural to start off with negativity. However, with some practice and dedication, it is not impossible to improve our intake of such criticism.
Career development expert Nicole Lindsay points out a few key factors in being receptive to constructive criticism: stop your first reaction, self-improvement, deconstruct the feedback, and follow-up (Lindsay, n.d.). Initial reactions may often come from a place of anger, resentment or pain because we feel offended or accused of something we did not intend. Intend is the key word here. Intentions and how we execute thoughts and actions can be two different things. Sometimes our good intentions don’t play out in the best of ways like we had hoped they would. Which is okay, as long as we look at this as in opportunity to improve ourselves and learn from it.
When receiving the feedback, it’s also important to ask questions so we can truly understand where it is we can improve. Constructive criticism is useless if we disagree with it or do not take the time to deconstruct and understand it. This is usually the part most people resort to being defensive. The key is to try to reach a solution and to do that we must break down the feedback into components and reach the root of the problem. Lindsay suggests the following to deconstruct the feedback effectively: “Seek specific examples to help you understand the issue; Acknowledge the feedback that is not in dispute; Try to understand whether this is an isolated issue (e.g., a mistake you made once); and look for concrete solutions to address the feedback (Lindsay, n.d.).” Learning about our weaknesses is very important. The person giving constructive criticism may not always be correct. Which is where deconstructing the feedback allows not only for the receiver to comprehend where they can improve but also for the giver to assess if the feedback was appropriate or fair. Following up after the fact allows us to see if our effort is paying off and if we truly have reached a place of improvement.
It is effective to stick to specifics in the deconstruction phase as oppose to general statements and definitive statements. For example, words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ are too definitive and by default, incorrect. General definitive statements like “You’re always so judgmental” should be more specific like “I didn’t think it was nice of you to say I am neglecting my children because I’m working full time to provide for them.” Now that the statement has become more specific to the situation, it can be deconstructed to see if there really is a problem to improve from.
Receiving feedback effectively is important, but so is giving feedback effectively. How to Give Constructive Criticism is a great book by Celestine Chua that talks about something she calls the “Feedback Sandwich.” Chua uses the PIP abbreviation: positive, improve, positive, as her feedback sandwich. She suggests to always start with a positive comment about a persons’ strengths before diving into what improvements can be made. Lastly, she suggests ending off by either rephrasing the positive comment from the start or also adding on positive outcomes if the suggested improvement was made. This book also goes on to explore specific sentence formation and how it may affect the receiver and the most effective formulas to provide feedback that elicits optimal results.
Fong, C. J., Schallert, D. L., Williams, K. M., Williamson, Z. H., Warner, J. R., Lin, S., & Kim, Y. W. (2018). When feedback signals failure but offers hope for improvement: A process model of constructive criticism. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 30, 42-53. doi:10.1016/j.tsc.2018.02.014
Lindsay, N. (n.d.). Taking Constructive Criticism Like a Champ. Retrieved from https://www.themuse.com/advice/taking-constructive-criticism-like-a-champ
Chua, C. (2018, August 23). How to Give Constructive Criticism: 6 Helpful Tips. Retrieved from https://personalexcellence.co/blog/constructive-criticism/