Thank you for the criticism!

A key area I discuss with regards to Effective Communication is how to give and receive criticism constructively.  Have you ever considered saying “thank you” when someone criticizes you?  In other words, when they give you negative feedback.  Why, you may ask should you be saying “thank you” for such feedback?  Well it’s obvious really… the giver is providing you with an opportunity for growth and development that may never have happened without such feedback. Of course, such feedback should be given in a kind and considerate manner, so as to be well received. It takes two to tango, as they say.

Consider the scenario of eating out at a restaurant and being served a meal that is below par.  It might be under or over cooked, too cold or too hot, lacking in flavor, poorly presented on the plate, or unlike the description on the menu. Whatever the case might be, you are dissatisfied and not enjoying it.  You have two options:

  1. Say nothing; OR
  2. Tell the waiter or manager.

If you choose number 1, the passive approach, chances are you will be reluctant to return to the restaurant, and therefore deprive them of your future patronage.  You may even tell your friends about your bad experience, thus further depriving the establishment from additional patronage as well.

If you choose number 2, you have 2 options:

  1. Say that they are a useless establishment, you will not be coming back and you refuse to pay for a horrible meal! You finish your drink and storm out; OR
  2. Explain exactly what it is that you are dissatisfied with, that you are surprised because your previous experiences have been top class, that you are willing to allow them to fix it, and that getting a freebie out of them is not your aim.

If you choose number 1, the aggressive approach, you are not providing opportunity for growth and development, and you can expect a defensive response to your attack.  You will be left feeling frustrated or angry and your blood pressure might just shoot through the roof!  You will probably not be likely to return, nor will you be welcomed back in a hurry.

If you choose number 2, the assertive and constructive approach, you are providing the establishment with an opportunity for growth and development: to improve and avoid making the same mistake again.  For this the manager may even say thank you.  You will enjoy the rest of your evening and be left feeling satisfied and relaxed.  You will be likely to return.

We can all use this example in our daily lives when we give and receive criticism.  If you want to be constructive remember the following guidelines:

When giving criticism:

  1. Be sure of your intention. Are you trying to be helpful or are you trying to be hurtful?  If the former, go for it but if it is the latter, it may be best to keep it to yourself.  For example, “I just need to let you know for your future reference, the meal you served me tonight was not up to the standard I expect from your establishment.  I think you need to know this because…”
  2. Focus on something objective that then reduces the chances of denial on the part of the receiver. For example, focus on the quality of the meal you were served, and not the waiter, the manger or the establishment.  For example, “I want to tell about the meal you have served me.  It was not what I expected in terms of…”
  3. Don’t make sweeping generalisations. For example, “You are all useless here!”
  4. Avoid raising your voice, pointing fingers, waving your arms around or making any other potentially threatening gestures.
  5. If you can start with something positive before the negative, do so. For example, “I really like your restaurant and have enjoyed many fabulous meals here.  However, on this particular occasion….”

When receiving criticism:

  1. Don’t make excuses. For example, “We have been really understaffed tonight.”
  2. Don’t over-apologise. For example, “I am so so very very sorry.  We really have dropped the ball and I can’t tell you enough how terribly sorry I am for this.  Please, please find it in yourself to forgive us.”
  3. Don’t “blow up”. For example, “How dare you complain! Do you know how hard we try?!  I suppose you just complain wherever you go!  Why don’t you just get out of here…we don’t need people like you!!”
  4. Don’t deny an objective observation. For example, “It’s not cold.”
  5. Don’t minimize the observation. For example, “It’s not THAT cold… cool perhaps, but not cold.”

I really think that the ability to give and receive criticism constructively can add significant value and reduce stress on the parts of both the givers and the receivers.  So remember, next time say thank you and mean it… it’s not too complicated.

Take care everyone.

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