Question: Where is the fine line between constructive and negative criticism?
Answer: The very word “criticism” has negative connotations for many, so we’re starting from minus territory to begin with. Why? Because criticism is often associated with hurtful, manipulative language. Think about a situation where you feel like you’ve received negative criticism. How does a statement like this feel? “You really screwed up that presentation. You offended the client and couldn’t close the deal. I should have had someone else handle this assignment.” Wow. This sounds like a direct attack on you as a person. It’s no wonder that this type of criticism is not received favorably.
As entrepreneurs we must have thick skin in order to receive criticism of all types. And we must also be able to deliver criticism – but only in a constructive manner. First consider the audience. To deliver constructive criticism it must be perceived as constructive by the receiver. If this person is a highly resilient individual, your criticism may need to be offered more directly and bluntly. Conversely, someone who tends to be more sensitive may need to receive constructive criticism a bit more subtly.
Second, we must measure the intent of our criticism. Do we truly desire to be honest and constructive with what we have to say? Or do we want to send a message of disapproval in order to make the other person feel badly? Sometimes in our personal relationships – with a spouse or significant other – we may have a tendency to be less constructive and our criticism becomes hurtful.
Finally, constructive and effective criticism should always contain some suggestion for improvement. When this is done, our criticism can be perceived as helpful and positive. For example, the statement we read earlier could be modified as follows. “May I make a suggestion? The client may have been offended during the presentation because he thought we were ignoring his needs. The next time, you might consider spending a few moments reviewing the client’s specific needs and then show him how our product meets those needs.” There’s no mistaking that this is a positive and constructive dialogue and will most likely be perceived as intended.
Criticism should be focused on what someone has done or is doing, rather than the person himself. By being honest and appropriately sensitive to another’s feelings, criticism can be used as a positive and productive tool for improvement.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.