Most people say they’re OK receiving constructive criticism. But few people really are. Criticism of any kind hurts. Even if it’s done properly.
When someone reacts poorly to constructive criticism, they usually:
- Get angry.
- Get defensive.
- Get quiet and tune out.
It’s not quite Kubler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief, but there’s a pattern there. The key for the person giving the constructive criticism is to be prepared with these responses:
- “I understand.” Don’t respond to anger, defensiveness and quietness with the same emotions. Keeping an even keel and expressing your understanding is important. Bring things back to the key points of behavior that are problematic.
- “So what you’re saying…” A well-practiced technique in communication is to repeat what someone has said, in summary form. It makes people truly feel like you’re listening. (Hopefully you are listening.)
- “It’s not you, it’s me.” I’m kidding. Don’t say that.
- “We can work together on this.” Wow, that’s almost “it’s not you, it’s me” but not quite. Constructive criticism is useless without focusing on solutions. You can’t provide criticism and then say, “off you go, figure it out.” Make it a “we” task not a “you” task.
Sometimes, there’s nothing you can say to make the situation better. It may be time for a break. Suggest a follow-up meeting, providing each person a chance to reflect, and figure out how the constructive criticism will be handled.