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10 Steps to Expressing Constructive Criticism and to Being Heard

Very often we find ourselves in situations when we have to point out other peoples’ mistakes or express our disagreement. Criticism is a tricky business, because very few people are receptive to it and even less people know how to offer it without being offensive or derogative. Basically if you learn this one skill – the world will be your oyster.

You will succeed at work, because your co-workers and employees will respect your opinion. Your friends will value your opinion and seek your advice. Many of your relationship problems will simply disappear, because you will be able to resolve conflicts and miscommunications constructively.

So how do you point out that your friend is making a mistake, without hurting their feelings? How do you give effective feedback to your co-workers and make them more amenable to taking on board your suggestions? And finally, how do you stop your own inner critique and refrain from judging yourself?

Here are 10 Steps to Expressing Constructive Criticism and to Being Heard:

1. Avoid Unnecessary Criticism

If you pay attention to dialogues carried on around you, you will soon come to realize that many times people criticize unnecessary. They generalize, make assumptions, and exaggerate. While those, who are being criticized feel hurt and become defensive. Do not be one of these people, who criticize easily. Whenever you are about to say something unpleasant to a person, stop and ask yourself “Why am I saying it?” What good will it do? If you have found at least 3 different, objective reasons to why you have to share this information then go ahead. Just do it wisely.

2. Use “Sandwich Technique”

Many managers and coaches are familiar with this technique, where negative feedback is offset between two positive compliments. Now, I personally do not believe much in “sweetening the pill”, but I found that using the “Sandwich technique” takes my focus away from judgmental thoughts, helping me concentrate on the positive aspects of a person or situation.

Here is how you do it:

  • Identify the positive. Find something significant that the individual did
  • Present a fact/feedback.
  • Conclude with encouragement or a compliment.

For example, “What I like most is how you approach any new challenges. It is just that you leap to action without always thinking it through. However, your determination and persistence pays off most of the times.”

3. Say it from a place of love

If you are emotional, angry, upset then whatever you are about to say will do more harm than good. The slightest hint of irritation, superiority, condemnation in your voice is guaranteed to put a person into a defensive position. If you want your opinion to be heard, say it from a place of love.

4. Refrain from judgmental thoughts

Many people might not express their opinion out aloud, but they still criticize others inwardly. There is really no difference between saying the words and thinking them. The result is always the same – we are being negative and judgmental. And while criticizing others might give us a temporary sense of superiority, it is in no way making us better, nor helping the person we are judging. Real abiding happiness comes from feeling oneness with people, from acceptance and compassion. Look for something positive in every person you meet and you will be happier.

5. Offer encouragement and support

Besides offering constructive criticism and pointing out what has to be changed, can you also offer a solution, your encouragement or your support? People will be much more receptive to your advice and opinion if they feel that you are sincerely concerned and try to help.

6. Be honest

Usually dropping submissive hints here and there and trying to smooth the waters is just as ineffective as destructive criticism. Mainly because most people do not understand what you might be trying to say! If you want to help another person, do not shy away from discussing what you think is a problem. Be upfront and convey your feelings with sincerity and open-mindedness.

7. Avoid Moralizing

If Mother Theresa was still with us, she would probably agree that “If you moralize people, you have no time to love them.” Truly magnanimous people never moralize. They let their actions speak louder than words. Try to do the same. Be an inspiration, share your experience, offer your advice, but do not lay upon your shoulders the weight of “weeding out the evils of the world”.

8. Separate the “issue” from the person

One negative action does not make someone a bad person, just like one nice gesture does not make someone a saint. We are destined to make mistakes and correct them. This is how we learn. This is how we grow and improve our character. When there is a problem that needs to be discussed, focus on the issue at hand, not the person them self. A great way to do this, is to point out what needs to be corrected and say that you could have easily made the same mistake too.

9. Let go of the need to be right

This may be difficult to do, especially when you are 100% sure that you are RIGHT. But then again, were you ever sure of something before and it turned out to be a mistake? If you want to help another person, make it about them, not about your need to convince them that your opinion is the only correct one in the room. Yes, people may not always agree with you. They may ignore your advice. They may openly confront you. And that is ok. Because each one of us is entitled to have an opinion, even an erroneous one.

10. Listen carefully

If a person is explaining their reasons to you, listen! And try to put yourself in their shoes. You might find a better way to explain your own point of view. Or maybe you will change your attitude as well.

Do you often criticize people?

What are your tips on delivering criticism and being heard?

  • Rosemary
    February 21, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Hi Arina, What fantastic advice this is that we all need to keep in mind. It’s so easy to slip into judgmentalism or moralizing mode and of course this is a total waste of time and breath, because the person you are adressing simply switches off! Personally I am terribly sensitive to needless negativity and find that I have a knee-jerk reaction to those who constantly judge me and others. I’ve just discovered the delights of your blog…I love your approach to life Arina. I’ll be back. 🙂

  • Qin Tang
    February 23, 2011 at 12:52 am

    Great advice and reminder. We often forget it at a time when we really need it.
    This goes with your last point: quick to listen and slow to speak/anger. Realize that no one is perfect. We all make mistakes.

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