The Keys to Constructive Criticism: Part 1

There are many ways for you to get ahead in life and perhaps one of the most powerful of all is your ability to leverage yourself through the efforts of other people.

Everyone has heard of the use of “OPM” or other people’s money. But today, as we rush into the information age and all of value is contained in knowledge and the ability to apply it, you have to be able to use “OPK” and “OPE.” OPK stands for other people’s knowledge and OPE stands for other people’s effort or energy, or enthusiasm. Your ability to tap into the knowledge, efforts, energy and enthusiasm of other people can do more to help you succeed greatly than perhaps anything else that you do in the world of work.

Fully 85% of your success in life will come from your ability to communicate and interact effectively with others. It is up to you to become very, very good at getting along with other people, even people who are different from you, and especially people who do not fulfill your expectations or perform the way you want them to perform.

Thousands of the very best managers have been studied over the years. In addition, thousands of the very best companies have been studied, as well. In both cases, they have found specific behaviors and mind sets that lead to high performance, working well with other people, and effective communication. For you to reach the top of your field, you must know and practice these findings in everything you do that affects the people around you.

For example, the very best companies to work in are considered to be “high trust” companies. A company was rated as a high trust company when people felt that they were free to make honest mistakes without being dumped on, criticized or fired.

On the other hand, a low trust, low performance company was one that was characterized by high levels of negativity, destructive criticism, and fear that ran rampant throughout the organization. What kind of a company do you work for?

The very best managers were found to be very high on two scales. First, they were very clear about what they wanted and expected. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do, and when they were supposed to do it and to what standard. On the other hand, the greatest demoralizer in the world of work is “not knowing what’s expected.” It is absolutely amazing how many managers become angry and upset when people do not do the job they expected and then it becomes clear that the people doing the work have no idea what it was that the manager was looking for. Who is at fault in a situation like this?

The second characteristic of the very best managers is a high consideration factor. The employee’s felt that the boss cared about them as people rather than just as employees. They felt that the boss looked upon them as friends and was kind and considerate to them as individuals, as well as employees.

These are the targets that you want to be aiming at as a high performance manager. You want to create a high trust environment where people know exactly what they are expected to do and at the same time, they feel that you like them and care about them as people.

And how are these impressions formed in the minds of employees? The answer is simple. People formulate their impressions of you, and of the company, and of themselves and of their futures very much as a result of your non verbal and verbal communication, the way you talk to them and treat them on a day-to-day basis. It is not one thing that you do or say, but a combination of hundreds and even thousands of things that you do and say throughout the days, weeks and months. And everything counts!

Everything that you do or say helps or hurts. Everything adds up or takes away. Everything either builds a high trust, high performance environment or detracts from it. Nothing is neutral. Everything counts!

This brings us to the subject of criticism. Psychologically, destructive criticism is the greatest destroyer of human beings ever imagined. If a person is severely criticized as a child, the person can be destroyed emotionally for the next 50 years. Destructive criticism has acted very much like a reverse neutron bomb in the field of human personality.

A neutron bomb destroys all the people but leaves the buildings intact. A reverse neutron bomb, in the form of destructive criticism, destroys the person but leaves them alive and walking around, an emotional and psychological danger both to themselves and others.

Parents criticize children in an attempt to increase their effectiveness. They think that, if I criticize my child when he or she makes a mistake, the child will smarten up and fly right. Next time, the child will be smarter and better. Therefore, the parent rationalizes; I am fulfilling my function of bringing up more competent and effective children.

However, everything that you do in life is either to build your self-esteem or to protect it from being torn down. When you have high levels of self-esteem, when you like and respect and value yourself, you feel great about yourself and your abilities. You feel more effective and stronger in everything you do. You are more willing to take risks and to move out of the comfort zone.

Your self-esteem is very closely tied to what psychologists call your levels of “self-efficacy.” This means your ability to do the things that you apply yourself to. The more you like yourself, the better you do. And the better you do, the more you like yourself. Like two hands and two feet climbing a ladder, each reinforces the other as you move upward and onward to ever greater heights of personal accomplishment.

And where does constructive criticism come into this picture? Well, destructive criticism lowers your sense of self-esteem. Destructive criticism causes you to like and respect yourself less. And the less you like and respect yourself, the worse you do at whatever you try. If you feel like a loser, you lose. You perform poorly. You make mistakes. And the more you make mistakes, the worse you feel about yourself and the more mistakes you subsequently make.

The same rules of destructive criticism apply to adults. We say that adults are just children with better excuses. The adults in your life are just people who at one time were children and were susceptible to all of the dangers contained in destructive criticism.

Perhaps the best place to deal with the entire subject of criticism is for you to redefine what it means. Many parents use criticism as a form of punishment, as a way of getting even with their children when the children fail to do what the parents wanted or expected. As adults, we often carry these same verbal communication patterns into the workplace. However, in the world of work, where people are the most valuable resource and the knowledge and skill they bring to their work is the most precious asset that any company has, we cannot afford to do anything to damage their output or performance.

For this reason, we think of criticism as performance improvement information. The entire purpose of criticism in the world of work is to give people constructive feedback that enables them to improve their performance and do their jobs better.

In fact, the simplest measure of the rightness or wrongness of critical feedback is whether or not the person feels better after you have given them feedback than they felt before.

If you give your feedback in such a way that a person feels better, more competent, more capable, more respected, and more able to do their job better in the future, the person will like and respect themselves more and will simultaneously respect you more. His or her self-esteem will go up. His or her performance and effectiveness will improve. His or her self-efficacy and a sense of mastery will increase. All this will occur if your feedback has been constructive and helpful.

If on the other hand, a person feels worse after talking to you, then you have actually damaged a precious company asset. It is very much as if you have taken a sledge hammer and gone to work on a company type writer or computer. By destructively or negatively criticizing a person for something that they did or did not do, you dramatically decrease their effectiveness. You leave the person walking around but you have undermined the individuals feeling of confidence in his or her ability to do the job. As a result, he or she will do less and less of the job and will probably do it even worse than before. The output, productivity and performance of the individual and their ability to contribute to the company will have been decreased proportionately.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian's goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.

  • Juergen

    A brilliant piece, as always, and very true.
    One thing: In paragraph 6, should it not say ‘destructive criticism’ rather than ‘constructive criticism’?
    Just being constructive …

  • Les York

    Very true,how many of out thoughts(disappointments) are made up of assumptions how people should perform even know we may not have given them the knowledge or skills needed…

    Good post,,,,

    Thanks Brian

  • Pingback: Effective Communication in the Best Companies()

  • Tracey E. Bennett

    This part of your article went straight to my heart:
    “Parents criticize children in an attempt to increase their effectiveness. They think that, if I criticize my child when he or she makes a mistake, the child will smarten up and fly right.”

    Countless times I was enjoying being with my smart and funny mom until she began to criticize me, and I fled to my room in tears. Yes, she was trying to make me a better person. How much more effective and uplifting it would have been for her to comment on what I did well. So many times she could have caught me doing something right.

    I’ve learned to catch myself doing something right. What a pleasant way to learn and grow.

    Thanks for a terrific article.

  • Cindy Chen

    Hello Brian,

    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year 2011!

    I deeply wish you and all your family members:

    Have a Beautiful Life!

    Full of Love & Luck!

  • Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Brian,

    Gauging how a person feels after receiving feedback is an effective way to measure constructive.

    Think suggestion. When offering suggestions my tone is calm. My message is measured. There’s no “right/wrong” or labels involved. I aim to help not hurt.

    I feel the same way when receiving suggestions. If my feelings enter a low energy area either I am taking the suggestion personally or their’s a grain of truth in the feedback that my ego resists. Either way my feelings tell me something.

    Thanks for sharing Brian. Have a powerful day!


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