HOW SUPER PERSUADERS GIVE AND RECEIVE CRITICISM EFFECTIVELY
There is a sign in some kitchens that reads, COMPLAINTS TO THE COOK CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH! This is a reflection of our attitude toward criticism. Most of us welcome honest feedback – as long as it is flattering and complimentary. People in leadership roles of any kind, whether in the home, classroom, or office, realize that there are times when they have to demand better performance, punish someone who has refused to cooperate, or set some issue straight. Regardless of your good intentions at such a time, correction and criticism is not pleasant to the person receiving your attention. You can, however, improve your skills at correcting people so that it does not cost you goodwill and cooperation.
WHY SHOULD WE TAKE CRITICISM?
The definition of criticism is pointing out a fault. This is also known as negative feedback. That raises the question of why have negative feedback at all? We prefer to get compliments and praise because it makes us feel good. So why have criticism at all?
I’m sure as a child you played a game where somebody hid something in the room. Then you had the person leave the room, and when they came back in, you would give the a message of hot or cold as the person got closer or farther away from that object. So we need balance;
hot and cold; positive and negative. Criticism is an effective learning experience. Successful people in this world are not people who avoid mistakes or errors. They’re the ones who learn from them. And we all make mistakes. Henry Ford, in inventing the automobile, made one big mistake the first time around – he left out the reverse gear!
THREE REACTIONS TO CRITICISM
We all have some problems in responding to criticism. Criticism tends to stir up any number of strong emotional feelings, from guilt and resentment to outright anger. There are three ways of handling criticism. Notice which one you fall into when taking criticism. The first reaction is fight. In saying, “I don’t want to hear about it,” you deny the criticism; you turn it down and fight it. If someone criticizes you, your response may be, “You’re out of your mind” of “Keep your opinions to yourself,” In this case you are fighting the criticism.
The second way of handling criticism is flight. When you’re using flight, you’re saying, “Don’t criticize me, because I can’t face it; I can’t discuss it,” and you might think, “How can I be so stupid?” or “I never do anything right.” You might start crying or become overwhelmed by it. Now flight might seem to be the opposite of fight – fight is aggressive and flight is timid – but actually they have more in common than you might realize. In both reactions you deny the criticism. In saying, “I don’t want to talk about it,” whether it is through tears or aggression, you are denying the issue. These two reactions are both refusals to examine the truth.
The third reaction is to evaluate. This is where we’ve been advised by our parent figures to be objective and open minded. The problem is that evaluation is easier said than done. When you tell me to be objective,
how do I go about doing that? Here are some steps to evaluate criticism.
- Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this person?” There’s something to be learned if you look for it.
- Agree with part of the criticism. If you do that, here’s what you will accomplish. You will let the person know that he has been heard. You get out of the whole argument that says, “You haven’t been listening to me.” You’ve indicated, “Yes, I have mentally processed that comment.” You’re admitting, “I’m not perfect and I can stand some improvement.” When you do this, you take the wind out of their sails. If you say, “You know there’s some truth in what you’re telling me about that,” then you don’t have an opponent.
- Be sure you understand the criticism. Many times we get criticized, and it’s not really clear what the person is getting at. This is because it is stated in generalized terms instead of behavioral terms. It’s a fact that criticism is often phrased in a way that’s not very useful. If you don’t understand the criticism, question the person in a calm, information-seeking tone of voice, and not a threatening one. Question that person to find out exactly what they mean. Now, that’s hard to do if you have a fight reaction, so remind yourself that you must ask one question. Say to them; “Tell me more about your view- point.”
- Take time out and say, “I’d like to think about that and then I’ll call you back tomorrow morning.” Give yourself time to digest the criticism before responding.
- Analyze and get the facts. Good decision-makers analyze the facts first.
- Adjust your behavior if you decide to. Many people feel that they’re being forced to change when they’re criticized, and no wonder they fight back. But it’s your decision. Keep in mind what you can learn from the criticism.
We’re talking about taking criticism first because we’ve been advised to be empathetic with others so that we understand what they’re going through. If we know how to take criticism, we also have sensitivity because we’ve been examining how we feel. When a criticism is stated, it is given from that person’s viewpoint, and it’s one person’s way of looking at a situation. So when you give criticism, you are saying. “This is my viewpoint.” When giving criticism, here are some opening lines to avoid:
This is none of my business, but…. Don’t get angry but…
You probably won’t like this, but…
In using these phrases you are implanting the idea that you’re going to do the very thing you’re claiming to avoid. This is an attempt to be tactful but it is not successful. The negative suggestion will stay in the person’s mind rather than the disclaimer.
WHY SHOULD WE GIVE CRITICISM?
When is it appropriate to give criticism? Is honesty enough of a reason? May hurtful statements are made in the name of honesty. There’s a saying that I like that goes, “There’s honesty and there is brutality; but there’s no such thing as brutal honesty.” In fact, you can be sure that if anyone comes up to you and says, “Let me be perfectly honest….” It’s not going to be a compliment! In fact, it’s going to be a real zinger, and
the pretext or “honesty” is only an attempt to sugarcoat the attack. Honesty alone is not a good enough reason to give criticism. Here are some reasons to give criticism:
- Responsibility. If you’re a supervisor and you answer for the work of your subordinates, it’s important for you to use criticism because you have to set job standards. This is shown very clearly when an office assistant types a letter for you. If there are errors in the letter, you are signing your name to that person’s work, and so you are accountable and need to give criticism to guide that person’s performance.
- Parenting. As a parent you’re responsible for some of your child’s behavior, and so it’s important to criticize them to correct that behavior.
- Protecting human rights. Supposing you’re riding in a car with someone and they’re speeding along. You have a right to say to that person “Don’t drive so fast” because you have a right to stay alive. And so you need to give the criticism. You might say, “I’m uncomfortable with you driving at that speed and I’d like you to slow down.” You have a right to give this type of criticism.
- Intimate relationships. We tell intimate friends or mates things we wouldn’t tell others. We might discuss their haircut or their skirt length or their clothes, and we’re doing this to be supportive to these people. Realize that this is not a license to kill. We still need to have tact and sensitivity.
- Crisis. In a crisis situation you simply yell out the criticism and make it a command and it’s instantly given. There’s no time to say, “Well, let’s talk about this.” The crisis calls for criticism on the spot. If you
want people to accept your criticism, you have to build a trust level, and this trust level comes before the criticism. That means that at other times you’re praising those people to whom the criticism is addressed.
Set standards in advance. Let people know what you require. You’ll have much less resentment from a person when you give criticism, if they know the standards in advance. Also provide privacy. If you’re going to give criticism, take the person aside or shut the door. Remove any audience attention and avid an impersonal situation. Let them know that you’re not playing to an audience. This will keep their emotions in perspective and help them concentrate on the issue.
Also, seek information before you begin criticizing someone. Suppose you see someone just standing around on the job and you go tell that person what you think of that kind of behavior. Before you do that, you might say to yourself, “Seek information first,” and go over to them and say, “You know, I’ve noticed you standing here for about thirty minutes. Can you tell me why? What’s the reason?” And then that person might tell you that they’re on a special assignment that the president of the company asked them to stand there and wait for the package that was going to be delivered. If you’d given him that criticism for just standing around, you would have been embarrassed.
Be constructive, be specific and use behavioral terms in your criticism. Give the criticism of the behavior, not the person. For example, if the person is using poor English, perhaps a double negative, you wouldn’t want to go up to them and say, “Your English is terrible,” because then you’ve criticizing the person and not their behavior. And the person doesn’t know what to change. It might be
better to say, “You know you’re using a double negative, and if you say it this way, that’s the correct way.” It’s irritating to people when you are not specific. So it’s important, then, to criticize the performance, not the performer. Use words that deal with future improvement. A poor choice would be “Don’t mess this up like you did last time” because this is a negative affirmation that you put on that person. Look to the future, speak in terms of improvement, and say to them, “The next time I’d like you to do it this way.”
Deal in things, not personalities. If you criticize the person instead of their behavior, they will consider it a personal attack. If you say to them, “You are a sloppy typist,” then that person will become resentful and angry and will sabotage you the next time they type something. A better choice would be, “This letter has five mistakes, and it needs to be typed again.” Again, deal with things rather than attacking the person with labels or personal descriptions.
A BETTER WAY TO USE THE SANDWICH TECHNIQUE
In communication, there is something that is known as the sandwich or the Oreo-cookie technique. It has three parts: the cookie, the filling, and the other cookie. The first cookie is positive comment. You tell the other person that you like and appreciate them and what they are doing. Then, in between, you put in the negative – what you don’t like or what you want them to improve. Then you end on a positive note, expressing a belief that things will get better. By expressing trust in the person’s ability to improve, you have given the person permission to change without losing face. So you have the positive, the negative, and the positive. I’m sure you can see that the theory is that you leave the person with a pleasant thought.
Unfortunately this technique is sometimes used so indiscriminately that when you receive a compliment, you start to think. “Here comes the negative.” You start to get paranoid when somebody compliments you. If you have a problem with the sandwich technique, I would like to give you an additional formula called EFA. It is an empathetic remark, a factual remark, and a call for action. For example, you are in a restaurant that is very busy and you have a problem getting service.
You recognize that the waitress is busy, and if you don’t give criticism just the right way, she’s probably going to break down in tears, or worse, she’ll probably try to get revenge on you and punish you. Now you may have either a fight or a flight reaction. Using the EFA principle, you would say to the waitress, “I realize you’re very busy.” This is empathetic. You’re saying to the waitress, “I understand where you‘re coming from.” Number two is factual. You say, “I have an appointment.” Don’t apologize for the appointment or qualify it or say, “I know this isn’t your fault, but….” Just state a plain fact: “I have an appointment in thirty minutes.” Then number three, a call for action, again without apology, say, “I need to have my food served immediately.” Be assertive, considerate, and clear and direct. The EFA technique is similar to the sandwich technique but is much more effective,
HOW THE SUPER PERSUADER CAN USE CONSTRUCTIVE CONFRONTATION
It’s emotionally painful to discover that your efforts do not meet the expectations of others. Criticism causes us to get our feeling hurt and our sensitivities stepped on. By the same taken, you may dread giving criticism because you vividly recall your own discomfort at taking
criticism. And you may put off a confrontation and let simple problems grow out of proportion.
Constructive confrontation may be described as a deliberate attempt to help another person examine the consequences of some aspect of his behavior. It is an invitation to self-examination. Confrontation is a way of expressing concern for another person and a wish to increase the mutual involvement in the relationship. The purpose of a confrontation is to free the person being confronted so they can engage in more fruitful or less destructive behavior. Here are some guidelines.
- Do not confront another person if you do not intend to increase your involvement with him. You need to consider what to say, why it is important to say it, what your real motives are for saying it, how the person will react, how you can help them deal non-defensively with the data – to understand and internalize it – to become aware of the implications, and what the alternatives for future choices are. To do less is not an act stemming from the desire to help, but is probably hostility.
- Confront only if you experience feelings of caring. The only honest reason for offering a confrontation is the belief that awareness of the information will enhance the present and future well being of the person being confronted.
- Confront only if the relationship has gone beyond the initial stages of development or if basic trust has been established.
- Make sure a person’s defensiveness is under control. Otherwise, he will discount the information and alienation is a likely outcome.
Some statements seem to facilitate in-depth interaction, self- examination, and beliefs, while others seem to block that process. Here are some blocks to open communication:
- Put-down and personal criticisms – “You’ve got to be kidding when you say that!
- Rejection of feelings – “Come on, there’s no reason for you to be upset.
- Giving advice or pressing for a course of action before the relevant facts are known “Why don’t you just go tell your boss off.
- Giving an opinion, especially if it is offered so that there is no room to present another point of view.
- Asking a series of interrogating, data-gathering questions, or why questions that require justification – “Why did you do a dumb thing like that?”
- Giving support is a patronizing way- “Lots of people feel that way” – or lecturing, moralizing, and sermonizing – “When I was a child…”
To open and broaden communication channels and stimulate a more in- depth level of thinking, you may choose one of these responses:
- Summarize what you have heard.
- Respond to the other person’s feelings and beliefs without judging them.
- Request clarification. You might say, “I’m not sure I understand. Can you give me another example of when this has happened?”
- Give ‘I’ messages, such as, “I’m eager to know what you did” or “I’m disappointed that things didn’t work out as you had hoped.”
- Make low-level inferences. For example, you may say, “I sense that you were very disappointed” or “I have a hunch that it was very difficult for you to do that.”
These responses allow people to broaden their relationships to include different interests, points of view, and experiences.
THE CORRECT METHOD OF USING COMPLIMENTS
There are also, of course, situations in which compliments are appropriate. A realistic statement of a person’s capacities, capabilities, resources, and good qualities at a time when he or she is discouraged or faced with a difficult situation is very helpful and constructive. At such a time it is particularly important to be precise, clear, and concrete, since people often find it hard to believe compliments when they are feeling low, and it is important to give proof, or substance, to these compliments by using facts and logic. When evaluating someone, the positive statements should be as numerous, clear, and detailed as the criticisms.
The highest compliment is one that shows the perception of a talent, strength, or a belief in the person before he or she is aware of it. Such a compliment makes the person aware of this hidden portion of the self in such a way that that quality is brought to blossom. This form of compliment is appropriate at any time.
Compliments are helpful in disagreements and discussions. If they are honest and apt, they ease the tension of confrontation and make a productive outcome more likely. Compliments that show respect and appreciation for the honesty and goodwill of one’s opponent make it possible for the opponent to look at the possibility of being wrong without feeling badly about himself. For instance, a poor response in a disagreement would be, “You are all wrong because your premise is wrong.” A good response would be, “Your position is clearly and logically stated. Unfortunately I can’t agree with your premise because….” Because respect was shown to the speaker’s skill in the second example, he is more likely not to hold on to his position out of pride, and he is less likely to develop personal animosity.
Compliments should be true and honest. For example, to tell someone, “I’m sure you’ll succeed because you have so much enthusiasm,” is not true. You can’t be sure that another person will succeed. Such a statement may be harmful by keeping that person from doing important self-examination. Saying, “You’ve got a lot of enthusiasm, which should be a great help in undertaking what you want to do,” is an accurate and encouraging statement and doesn’t set up unrealistic expectations.
Compliments should be freeing, not restricting. Talk about the person and what he does, not about products, conclusions, or things. To say, “You have good color awareness in clothes,” is better than saying, “That is pretty dress.” The first statement encourages the person to choose more freely; the second statement ties her to her present style of dress. Likewise, to say, “That is a great idea,” ties on to the idea, while the statement, “You really think things through,” encourages one to think more deeply about things.
And so we’ve learned that productive criticism or correction, which leads to winning relationships, deals with only the important issues and how to
correct mistakes. Character flows and problems of motivation and commitment must be considered only when the atmosphere is calm and when authentic praise can be used to counteract the unpleasantness the criticism is sure to produce. Even at that time, however, you can use terms and concepts that are supportive and lead to higher expectations for the future.
In dealing with your anger and the anger of others, remember that people are rarely consistent emotionally. We all have peaks and valleys as our feelings ebb and flow. It is inevitable that at some time or another, others will become frustrated and in turn will frustrate you despite your best efforts to keep things going smoothly. Remember that few people have the insights into human attitudes and behavior that you do as a result of reading this book. Using the information and methods given here can prepare you for times of frustration and help you nip problem situations in the bud with acceptance and support from those you are criticizing and confronting.
FIVE ACTION STEPS TO HELP YOU GIVE AND TAKE CRITICISM EFFECTIVELY
- Present the data on which your inferences are based before stating the inference. Have actual information available and avoid words such as always and never.
- Complain directly to the person involved and not to anyone else. Don’t compare their behavior to that of other people; and make your complaint in private, as soon as you can, since waiting allows anger to build.
- Criticize only those things that the person has the capacity to change, noting the faults in the performance and not the performer.
There is no need for you to apologize for your complaint, to use sarcasm, or to ask for their motivation in doing that to which you object. Prefacing your criticism with, “This is for your own good,” will in all likelihood destroy the chances that your remarks will be accepted in a friendly spirit.
- Use the Oreo-cookie technique (positive comment, negative comment showing the area for improvement, positive comment expressing the hope for better performance in the future) or the EFA technique (empathetic remark, a factual remark, and a call for action). If you never compliment the other person, don’t expect him always to remain open to your criticism. It is also a good practice to thank people for listening to your criticism.
- In accepting criticism, listen to what the critic has to say without speaking or discouraging him. Rephrase the criticism in your mind in terms of ways you choose to act. Use your intelligence to help articulate the objections rather than obscure them, and ask the critic politely what suggestions he may have as alternatives. Thank anyone who offers honest criticism, especially those who have nothing to gain and possibly something to lose. Once you discover that criticism doesn’t have to destroy your confidence, friendships, or career, you can go a long way in improving all three.