Winston Churchill said that "criticism will not be pleasant, but it is necessary". However, criticizing is easy, constructive criticism is an art that few have mastered. To criticize in order to criticize can be extremely harmful. Constructive criticism, on the other hand, can become a foothold for growth and improvement.
But the main problem with criticism is that it challenges our sense of worth. Criticism usually involves judgment - and we all avoid feeling judged. Therefore, we often take criticism as attacks or threats to our ego. And when we feel "forced" to defend our worth, our ability to absorb and accept what we are told decreases. Staying on the defensive prevents us from reflecting on the possible value of criticism because we only think about organizing our counterattack.
At the same time, we need feedback to correct our actions and thoughts. Without this feedback, we risk closing ourselves in a psychotic vision. The solution to the apparent dichotomy between the desire to avoid criticism and the need for feedback lies in constructive criticism.
How is constructive criticism?
A positive - or constructive - criticism is one that draws attention to an aspect that we ignore or neglect and that we could improve. Its main goal is to orient us or give us a frame of reference to improve our behavior or way of thinking.
This means that for a criticism to be positive or constructive, it is necessary to combine two elements:
<br>• Offer behavioral possibilities, leaving the person free to decide. A criticism that merely points out the flaw or error is not constructive because it does not provide guidelines for changing what is criticized. Constructive criticism must contain at least one alternative behavior, a suggestion for improvement.
• Real possibility of improvement. For a criticism to be constructive, it is not enough to have good intentions, it is necessary to put yourself in the shoes of those who are criticized and ask yourself if that criticism will really do them good. In other words, if you criticize something that cannot be changed the criticism will only generate more anguish and confusion in the person, and this is destructive criticism.
The 3 mistakes we make when we criticize
1. Not understanding that how we say things is as important as what we say. A precious message can get lost in the void or even cause harm if expressed inappropriately. The right tone and words, on the other hand, can positively predispose the criticized person and make them more receptive to the message.
2. Don't consider the other person. Even criticism made with the best of intentions can hurt or be perceived as an attack. Criticizing without regard to the other person's perspective, circumstances, and resources can do more harm than good.
3. Thinking you are right. Criticizing thinking that our position and vision of things is the only possible one is a big mistake that we often make. We must start from the fact that our story is not necessarily true or more valuable, but it is only an interpretation, an opinion or a suggestion. We don't have the absolute truth. Nobody has it.
How to make constructive criticism?
1. Be self-critical: Before pointing the speck in someone's eye, make sure you don't have a beam in your
First of all, it is difficult to accept "constructive" criticism from those who have not "built" anything. Therefore, before giving advice, we need to think about whether we are qualified to do so. We cannot criticize an overweight person and explain to him how to lose weight if we are obese ourselves. We will simply not be credible.
Therefore, before criticizing, we must ask ourselves: are we criticizing a mistake we are making ourselves? Are we suggesting a person to be more flexible when we are not? Criticism is usually accepted with pleasure when it comes from a reliable and mature person. This means that we cannot criticize starting from the idea: “do what I say, but not what I do”.
2. Criticize results and behaviors, not people
"The best criticism is that which does not respond to the will to offend but to freedom of judgment," wrote Fernando Sánchez Dragó. We must understand that criticism is not a judgment, it is an opinion. And we must also understand that the fact that someone has done something wrong or made a mistake, from our point of view, does not mean that they are incompetent.
If we want criticism to be constructive, we need to make sure it doesn't generate a defensive reaction, and for this we need to focus on behavior or results, not question the person as a whole by making value judgments.
3. Use the right tone: suggest, don't impose
The essential goal of constructive criticism is to produce positive change for the benefit of all, so it is not about winning, but about convincing. Therefore, intellectual intimidation and arrogance don't work.
On the contrary, we need to take a friendlier and closer tone so that our words are not perceived as an attack. It makes more sense to offer feedback starting from intellectual humility rather than trying to impose an idea, preferring dialogue to monologue and curiosity to absolute certainty.
4. Be specific: deepen, deepen, deepen
The more contextualized the criticism is, the more likely it is to produce positive results. Generalizing does not usually help, it is better to know exactly what we mean and to express it in a concise and clear way.
The more specific we are, the better, because the person is less likely to feel attacked. For example, judging someone "incompetent" is not a criticism, it is a full-blown offense. On the contrary, pointing out where he went wrong and explaining the reasons can help him improve. Therefore, we should avoid generalizations like "you always behave like this" and be more specific.
5. Be empathetic: Before you criticize, you must understand
“Don't judge a person until you've walked two moons in his loafers,” says one of the Native American motivational phrases. Unfortunately, we apply very little of that ancestral wisdom. Instead, we criticize from our own point of view, regardless of the other person's needs, problems, or abilities.
Therefore, before speaking, it is convenient to stop and think about how we would feel if someone told us what we are about to say. Before criticizing, we need to open our minds and ask ourselves if that criticism can really bring something valuable to the other person and if that person really has the resources to do what we are suggesting. Otherwise, positive criticism becomes destructive.
6. Find the right time: The right words at the right time work wonders
“Criticism must be done in time; you have to get rid of the bad habit of criticizing later, ”said Mao Tse-Tung. Unfortunately, in most cases the criticism comes once the mistake has been made, so it's just a useless "crying over spilled milk". The ideal, however, is that criticism should have a preventive character.
If this is not possible, because the facts have already happened, we must at least make sure that our words arrive at the right time. If the person has already made a mistake, for example, and feels guilty, another criticism can only aggravate the situation. If we notice that the person is overwhelmed by emotions, it is not the time to criticize him because he cannot rationally reflect on our words. Therefore, in order for criticism to fall on fertile ground, it is essential that it arrives at the right time.
7. Offer tips and support: Don't close doors without opening up new possibilities
If we want to make constructive criticism, we must not only focus on what “NOT” should be done, but also on what we think “YES” can be done. When we point out what is wrong, but don't point out an alternative route, we cause disappointment and anxiety, so the person being criticized can feel lost.
To change behavior, people need to know what might work and what doesn't. If the criticism refers only to one aspect, ignoring the other, provides incomplete information, which is not very useful for guiding action. In case we don't have any solution at hand, we can at least offer our support to find a solution together.
Frank A. Clark perfectly summed up the secret of constructive criticism: "criticism, like rain, must be kind enough to nurture a man's growth without destroying his roots."