Constructive Criticism and Advice – Giving It, Taking It, and Reconsidering It

Criticism is like medicine – it doesn’t go down well and it’s not pleasant for the most part, but undoubtedly it is good for us. Without criticism we wouldn’t be able to improve ourselves, and we would continue to make the same mistakes over and over without ever adapting or evolving.

You might not think that inviting criticism is a great way to spend your time, but when you look at large organizations that’s actually exactly what a lot of them do – asking for customer feedback and carrying out market research and constantly asking you if you enjoyed their service or products. People tend to complain more than praise so this will largely be negative, but for improving a company’s offering it’s gold dust.

However while this is true for the most part, it can also be a negative thing if the criticism is not constructive. If it’s simply hurtful and damaging to your self esteem, and if it doesn’t carry any suggestions for improvement, then all it does is to damage your confidence and that can have a range of negative impacts on your behaviour and success.

You need to consider this when giving advice, when taking it, and when considering it. Here we will look at how to do those things constructively.

Taking Criticism

When you take criticism you need to do so in a way that is at once detached, but at the same time takes the messages on board. Remember that no trait is set in stone, these aren’t criticisms of your person, but rather a form of ‘customer feedback’ for things that you can probably change. Whether it’s a product or just your general way of conducting yourself, criticism is a chance for improvement. You are too close to the subject to fairly and accurately judge yourself and your creations, so you should rely on others to help guide you. After all they will likely be the consumers that you are targeting.

However at the same time you also need to bear in mind that you can’t please everyone all of the time. In some ways your own opinion is more useful than those of others because you have a fuller understanding of the situation. Meanwhile, sometimes criticism will be misguided, unfair or vindictive and in such cases it has no value to you. You shouldn’t weight every piece of criticism equally so here’s how you should judge the criticism that you hear:

• Does it concur with your own views? If you already had a sneaking suspicion that you were too loud, or that your website was too cluttered, and then someone else makes the same criticism, then that should be the confirmation you need to act.

• Does it concur with the advice of others? If you find lots of people are telling you the same thing, then that might mean it’s time to listen.

• Is the criticism from your target demographic? If you have made an R&B track and your gran doesn’t like it then you shouldn’t take that too much to heart. If your contemporaries don’t like it though, and ‘R&B Hits Mag’ doesn’t like it either… then maybe you have work to do.

• Is the criticism specific? If the criticism doesn’t tell you what you need to change then it is of no use to you. Someone who looks at a drawing you’ve done and says ‘I don’t like it’ has done nothing helpful and you’re best off ignoring their statement. If they say that you need more colour however, then this is something you should give more weight to and consider. Of course if someone doesn’t give you enough information when they make a comment then you can simply ask them to elaborate – which often takes people by surprise.

• Are Their Motivations Pure? If the person giving the criticism is someone you know has never liked you, or who is competing with you, then you shouldn’t consider their criticism too seriously. If it is a friend and it clearly pains them to tell you that something is wrong, then this is a lot more useful.

• Do you respect their opinion? Likewise you need to ask yourself whether this is someone who you should be treating as an authority on the subject. If they are generally smart and switched on, or if they have experience or education in a relevant field, then you might want to consider their points.

Once you have received some criticism then, decide if it’s something you could potentially change and whether the source is a positive one and one that you can trust. If it is then do some more market research. Ask others if they agree with the opinion, and look at other examples in the field to see what others are doing. If your further research concurs then you should try adjusting to compensate for the criticism on a part time basis, monitor the differences, and then decide if this was a good course of action or not.

Giving Criticism

As we’ve discussed, criticism is highly useful as a form of feedback to help you develop everything from your personality to your dress sense to your personal and business projects. Thus it is only fair that you also be able to dish it out as well. You might feel like you’re protecting someone by sugar coating the truth, but all you are doing is denying them a chance to grow and develop in a positive way.

However at the same time you also need to deliver your criticism in a good way that will be constructive, helpful and that won’t damage their self confidence. Here we will look at how you can do this.

The ‘Sandwich’ Technique: First of all you should always make sure that you sandwich your criticism between praise. This way you are giving constructive feedback, but at the same time not damaging that person’s self esteem. For an example, if someone showed you a computer game they had programmed you wouldn’t just say ‘the controls are awkward’, but you would instead say ‘The graphics are fantastic and it’s amazing that you’ve managed to programme this yourself. I would say the controls could be simpler, but overall it’s really fun to play as well.’ This is an effective way to deliver your constructive criticism because it first of all seems like a much more measured and considered response. It’s balanced, it contains lots of points, and some of those points are things the person will want to listen to – and all that means that they will be more likely to take that advice on board. At the same time though it also tells them that you don’t think the whole thing is a waste of time – because that’s certainly not constructive.

Focus on Things That Can Be Changed: Telling someone their nose is too big is not a form of constructive criticism, but telling them that their hair doesn’t suit them is. What’s the difference? Well quite simply the latter example is more constructive because it focuses on a factor that can be changed. Telling someone their nose is too big is hurtful because they are always going to be stuck with that nose, whereas having bad hair is something they can change by adding a splash more hair gel or getting it cut. Use this approach whenever you are delivering criticism.

Choose Your Moments: First of all, don’t be critical of everything as there are some things that don’t need to be ‘perfect’. If someone asks you for your honest opinion on their business plan, then now is the time to give them honest critical feedback as otherwise they could stand to lose a lot of money. However if someone has just bought a new computer and they’re very happy with it, they won’t want to know what’s wrong with it. In short ask yourself if they will benefit from the critique, and whether or not it’s something they will appreciate. In most cases unless they specifically ask for your opinion it’s safer not to give it – unless they are heading for a big mistake and you can see that.

Once you have decided that criticism would be useful and appreciated, you still need to think about just how you want to deliver it. In short this means making sure that you tell them what you think in a private setting and in a way that they can absorb all the information. Never criticize someone in front of other people as that damages their reputation. The best form of critique is an e-mail or letter as it gives you space to describe your points and it gives them time to consider them carefully.

Elaborate: The more elaboration you put into your critique the more helpful it will be. Tell them where you see the problem, why it’s an issue, who it would affect and how you would suggest they rectify it.

Don’t Be Personal: You should never make your criticisms personal – even if the criticism is about their behaviour or about their attitude as this will come off as bitter and offensive. The important distinction is to critique their behaviour, not their overall person. So that might mean telling them that they are being stupid, not that they are stupid.

Describe Positively: Better than telling someone that they’re being stupid is to tell them that they ‘could be smarter’. Likewise if someone has made something too dark, it’s better to tell them that it is ‘not light enough’ than it is to say it is ‘too dark’. The latter sounds like a complaint whereas the former sounds like a suggestion/idea.

Let Them See the Idea: To have the best luck convincing someone of your critique you need to make them see things from your point of view. Better yet, if you don’t care about getting the credit, then let them come to the realization on their own.

One good way to do this is by showing them an example of the problem. If someone has written an essay that’s too wordy for instance, then you could point them in that direction and say that it’s a bit like that. Or vice versa you could show them a clearly written and concise piece of text and tell them they could learn something from it.

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