Giving & Receiving Criticism
AUTHOR: Sue Hadfield & Gill Hasson
An article written by Sue Hadfield, author of How to be Assertive
How do you react to criticism? Is your immediate reaction to argue and justify yourself? Criticism usually implies a sense of disapproval and fault-finding, so it is a natural reaction to be angry, defensive or upset. Constructive criticism, however, can be helpful and lead to better working relations.
How can you react assertively to criticism? First of all, breathe deeply and listen to what is being said; paraphrase the criticism so that you know there is no misunderstanding. Check your body language is relaxed and keep your voice low and pleasant.
Now ask yourself, honestly, whether the criticism is valid.
If it is, then say so: “Yes, I have made some mistakes recently.” Say this confidently and then say what you are going to do about it. If you can’t think what to do, ask for help: “Can you suggest a way that I can improve?”
If the criticism is not valid say firmly: “No, that’s not true.” Never accept general personal criticism, such as “lazy”, “mean”, “hopeless”. Ask for an explanation; always use “I” statements: “I don’t understand” rather than “You’re talking rubbish”.
If you suspect the criticism is just to make the other person feel superior, simply say: “I disagree”, in a pleasant but assertive way.
Some people avoid giving criticism because they are worried about the reaction. Direct, open and specific feedback, however, is the only way to help people to improve. You are not doing them any favours if you don’t point out what they are doing wrong. Remember your own feelings when being criticised.
First, choose the right place: criticising someone in front of others only adds to their sense of humiliation. It’s best to tackle things as soon as possible – if you let things build up it just gets worse – but not when you are tired/angry/upset. Check that your tone of voice/body language isn’t aggressive.
Remember the PNP sandwich: Positive – Negative – Positive. Say something positive: “I appreciate the way that you...”; then the negative; and end on a positive note: “I’m glad that we’ve been able to....”. Make sure, however, that what you say is genuine praise - and give the person time to respond to this. Otherwise they will begin to anticipate the “but”.
Remember to criticise the behaviour, not the person. Instead of saying someone is unreliable, say what they have actually done: “You’ve been late twice this week.”
Give them chance to respond and paraphrase the reply. Ask for suggestions for improvement and make sure that you have their agreement before you leave the matter. Decide what you will do if the improvements don’t happen (but you don’t have to tell them).