Constructive Criticism: Don’t Make the Truth Hurt

Constructive Criticism

Does anyone like to be criticized?

I certainly don’t. But over time, I've learned how valuable criticism can be.

When I was in my twenties and working in public relations, I sent a letter to a magazine editor suggesting a story idea related to one of my clients.

I received a stinging reply from the editor's assistant, someone about my same age. He had sent my letter back, marked up like a high school term paper, criticizing my writing and pointing out grammatical errors.

It felt like I'd been slapped. At first I was indignant. "How dare he send me this. Who does he think he is? I majored in English in college -- I know more than he does."

But after my internal tirade, I burst into tears. As painful as it was to admit it, he was right -- I had made mistakes in the letter. I could have done better.

Although his delivery was sorely lacking, the editor's assistant taught me two powerful lessons with his comments: first, proofread everything before sending it, and second, don't ignore criticism just because it stings. It might actually help you.

The lesson the assistant could have (or should have) learned was how to offer criticism in a way that doesn't leave the other person reeling. That's a skill that can win you a lot of respect and good will in your professional and personal life.

Most of us tend to get defensive and hurt when we're criticized, whether or not the criticism is warranted.

We get thoughts like: “What right do you have to say that? Are you so perfect that you’re above criticism? I bet you’ve made more mistakes than I have.”

Even if the critic means well, being the recipient of negative feedback isn’t easy on the ego. But if the critic is thoughtless or intentionally harsh, it can send some people into dark and painful place.

Everyone has a sense of their own importance. We all need to be validated and to feel like our efforts and actions are valued.

Negative criticism can feel like an invalidation of your very existence and humanity. Offered mindlessly, it can make you question yourself and your essential worthiness.

Knowing how painful criticism can be, you would think we would just avoid criticizing other people. Who wants to inflict pain or cause someone to question their own self-worth?

But of course it's not realistic to avoid criticizing others altogether. Plenty of circumstances warrant criticism, and sometimes it is even ethically imperative that you offer it.

Like when your son parties all night instead of doing his homework. Or your friend shows up late every time you meet for a coffee date. Or your employee does something that can cost your business thousands or millions of dollars.

It’s not a question of whether or not you should criticize. It’s a question of how to deliver that criticism.

It's essential to communicate your feedback in a way that the recipient doesn't feel personally attacked.

You also want the recipient to feel good enough about your comments to take the appropriate action. A poorly delivered critique can totally backfire on you.

And hopefully the recipient will feel grateful to you for the feedback and learn something along the way.

Understanding how to offer criticism in a way that is productive and positive can ensure you get what you need from another person without leaving them bruised and battered in the process.

Here are six strategies for offering constructive criticism: