The Keys to Constructive Criticism: Part 2
As you can see, in communicating with other people, the foundation of your success in the world of work, the element of criticism and feedback on performance is absolutely essential. Your ability to master the art of giving constructive feedback to people so that they feel better and strong afterward can be the most important and powerful thing you do as you move upward and onward as a manager and leader in your field.
So the starting point of your approach to criticism is to think of it as feedback on performance. The purpose of criticizing is to give the individual valuable inputs and ideas he or she can use to be better next time.
You can even think of performance feedback as a form of training. When I was a young manager, I used to become frustrated when my staff would ask me continually for the smallest of details about how to do a job. But then I had a revelation. I realized that training or teaching people younger than me, or people who reported to me, was a vital part of my job as well. The reason I was the boss was because I had already mastered these particular methods and techniques. It was now my responsibility to teach and to train others so that they could master these techniques and move upward and onward as well.
When someone makes a mistake in your work or your personal life, you must immediately count to ten and make the decision that this is merely an opportunity for you to help the person be better next time. It is not a reason for you to become angry and get even with a person who has made a mistake.
And here’s another insight. Virtually everybody does the very best they can. A good starting point is for you to assume the very best of intentions on the part of everyone around you. Assume that they are acting on the best information they have and they are using their talents and skills the very best way they know how. Assume that any mistake that has been made has been the result of miscommunication or misunderstanding of instructions or expectations.
Sometimes, someone in my office will come to me to complain about the performance of a subordinate. I will then ask them quite calmly if the subordinate has been thoroughly trained, instructed and supervised in the performance of their job. In most cases, my managers look at me a little embarrassed and then walk away.
It is ridiculous for a manager to expect someone to do a good job if that person has not been thoroughly trained and coached in the performance of the job. No one can learn by osmosis or by trial and error. People need excellent training, excellent supervision and excellent coaching if they are going to perform at their best. And everybody wants to do the very best job they possibly can. No one ever starts out to do a poor job. If they do a poor job, it is almost invariably the fault of management for either not instructing and training them sufficiently or for giving them responsibilities that are beyond their capabilities in the first place.
When you have to give constructive feedback to a person, there are a series of mental techniques you can use to make it more effective, and to leave the person with higher self-esteem and greater feelings of self-respect afterward than they had before.
The first and perhaps the most important of these is for you to focus on the future over the past. The past is inherently negative. Nothing can be done about the past, so continually harping on the past and reminding a person that they did poorly in the past only makes a person feel badly about himself or herself. In a way, the person feels angry and trapped because the past is like spilled milk, it cannot be redone.
But when you encourage the person to think about the future and to think about what can be done the next time this particular situation comes up, your conversation becomes inherently positive and constructive. The person you are talking to feels happier and more positive as well. The future is inherently optimistic and creative while the past is inherently negative and unchangeable.
When my children or my staff makes a mistake, I encourage them to admit it openly and honestly. Then I ask, “Exactly what happened?”
There is nothing wrong with making a mistake. But making the same mistake over and over because you have not analyzed it to find out what happened is unforgivable. I encourage other people to think through the situation that turned out badly and analyze it thoroughly. What exactly happened? How exactly did it happen? When did it happen? Who was involved? Why did it occur? And so on.
But then, the most important part of all, I ask, “What did you learn? What will you do next time?’
As you focus on the future, always ask, “What do we do now? What is the next step? How can be minimize the damage or get the very most in terms of valuable lessons out of the situation?”
Another way for you to think about criticism is to focus on the solution rather than on the problem. Again, the focus on the problem is inherently negative while the focus on the solution is inherently positive. When you force and encourage people to think and talk about the solution, you raise their self-esteem and get them thinking creatively and optimistically.
Positive people think about the future and think about solutions. Negative people focus on the past and concentrate on who is to blame. Which one are you?
When a person has made a mistake, be sure to criticize the performance, not the person. Talk about the job or the work as if it were something neutral, like a book sitting on the desk or table between you. Instead of saying, “You made a mistake,” you can say, “This job is not being done the way we expect it.”
Talk about the job or the performance as though it belonged to a third party. Talk about how it can improve. Talk about exactly what is expected from this position and be precise in talking about where the job is not being done adequately. When you discuss performance improvement with an employee or child, talk about what the other person will do in the future. How will performance change, and how much? How will performance improvement be measured? What kind of schedule or deadline will we have to measure whether or not the performance improvement has taken place? Keep the conversation focused on where you are going and what is going to be done after this meeting.
At the end of any session of performance improvement, you should reaffirm your belief and confidence in the other person. You should say something like, “I know that you can do a great job. I have complete faith in you. If you have any questions or concerns, if there is any way I can help, please ask me.”
When you are coaching and counseling people to help them to perform better, in sales, or in any other line of work, there is a particular technique that you can use. This technique or method is used by the very best managers to produce the very highest performing and most successful employees.
First, you go along and you watch the other person do the job. If you are a sales manager, you go along on a sales call and sit quietly while the other person makes the sale. Resist the temptation to intervene or interrupt. If the customer turns to you and asks you questions, you gently refer the questions back to the salesperson and remain as silent as possible.
After the sales call, when you get outside, you simply ask the salesperson how he or she felt about the call. The salesperson will be very sensitive to criticism and will be a little bit uneasy but if you ask him or her how he or she felt, he or she will give you an honest assessment of the call.
In my experience, when you ask people to give you feedback on their own performance, they will be harder on themselves than you would be. Whatever the person says about their performance, you simply listen and nod kindly and with sensitivity. Don’t contribute or confirm.
If the person is critical of his or her performance, ask “How would you handle it next time? What would you do if you had this call to make over again?” Encourage the person to think about the future and what they will do next time.
Then, just before the next sales call, or the next event at work, you can give the individual one suggestion for improvement. Any more than one suggestion for performance improvement will usually be worse than no suggestions at all. Why is this? It is because people cannot absorb multiple inputs on their own personal performance.
Stay tuned for Part 3!
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