How can I give criticism that will be accepted?
For most of my life, I was taught to deliver feedback the WRONG way—where the criticism was sandwiched between two compliments to “soften the blow.” But within the last year, I learned a simple, GENIUS approach that gets the point clearly across, while still building rapport with the person. This has allowed me to more openly and readily critique ideas and behaviors without ruffling feathers.
When I began my career, giving criticism was something that gave me major anxiety, and I was so focused on not hurting anyone’s feelings that my main critique was often lost among platitudes (you can watch what I mean here).
I would give a “feedback sandwich” where I would compliment someone, sneak the criticism in quickly, and then compliment them again. In all my concern and anxiety, it ended up sounding inauthentic when I forced praise, and it buried the core message that I set out to deliver.
I didn’t have the best role models either. I saw many executives who were brash, going straight for the jugular with criticism. Receiving feedback from them left many employees feeling attacked or that their hard work was disregarded.
Then a mentor taught me the recipe for critical feedback:
1. Start with empathy.
Show some appreciation, relate to them in some way. Such as:
- “I can tell you really care about this … ”
- “I know that you put many hours into this and I appreciate it … ”
- “I can see this isn’t your favorite type of work, but you gave it your best effort … ”
- “I’ve noticed the past few weeks have been tough for you … ”
2. Then deliver the specific criticism.
Be specific about the behaviors that are unsavory instead of labeling the person or remarking on their character.
- Such as instead of saying, “You seem checked out,” name the behaviors, such as, “You rarely speak up in meetings anymore and have been late to work several times in the last 2 weeks.”
Avoid using absolute language like “always” and “never,” this gets people defensive.
- Such as, instead of saying, “You never remember to include me on emails,” say, “I’ve been frequently left off of communications you have with the client.”
This method establishes common ground first, attempts to empathize with the person, and then delivers direct, unmistakable criticism that the person can hopefully learn from. Below is an example of transforming feedback, before and after, to this more effective format.
It’s a mix of being caring with tough love that ultimately helps you build a stronger relationship with them.
This article first appeared on Quora.