The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt

Guest post from Deb Bright:

 

Here
it is the end of the year. You are feeling pretty good about how things are
going in general but you have trepidations about giving some people their
annual review. As you probably appreciate, you are not alone. In fact your boss
likely feels the same way about giving you your annual review. For everyone
knows and expects that at least some negatives will come up during their review
session. Only the masochists among us look forward to being put on the carpet
for things they have done wrong over the year! 

Let’s
face it, just about everyone hates criticism – it’s the least sought after form
of human communication.  But, criticism
doesn’t have to be all that bad. As a matter of fact, current research on the
subject shows that the more one learns about how to give and receive criticism,
the more they come to discover that it can open doors to the achievement of
personal goals and successes never dreamed possible.  By understanding a few skills involving criticism,
whether as a giver or receiver, it can become a significant asset towards your
personal success as a leader or manager. Once you learn some tenets on how to
give it so others actually welcome it, or how to accept it as a form of self-advancement,
you will know more than just about anyone you come in contact with. You might
even come to consider it a kind of personal competitive edge.

The
discomfort associated with criticism is understandable.  Besides conveying something negative, the
stress associated with criticism is heightened when givers are not prepared and
deliver a poorly constructed message highly subject to misinterpretation and
challenge.  For receivers, they too often
are stressed because they aren’t sure whether the intent of the criticism is to
help, hurt, rattle their self-confidence, or set them up for a fall.

The
source of our discomfort with it can be traced to the fact that mostly all of
us never developed the skills necessary to ensure that the criticism we give is
received as intended. As receivers we lack the skills of looking for what is
potentially helpful rather than what is argumentative.  

Because
we lack the necessary skills, mistakes in handling criticism are plentiful for
both givers and receivers. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes that givers make
is that they “call it as they see it.” 
These are what I refer to as “Quick Draw” givers because their
approach is based on an emotional reaction with little thought given to the
consequences of their delivery. Consequently, they tend to alienate more than
they motivate.  They overlook the fact
that once they open their mouth, the control shifts to the receiver who decides
how to interpret what’s been said and likely takes a defensive position that is
of benefit to neither party.

So
to avoid being a Quick Draw giver, it’s important to recognize that your
control lies in proper preparation.  This
involves considering such things as how to express the criticism (tone of
voice), when (timing), where (privately is best), and by whom (in bounds of
your relationship). What’s required is always making these preparatory
considerations a matter of habit aka – “thinking before you speak.”

Feeling
uncomfortable when giving criticism is natural. 
It’s what you do with that uncomfortable feeling that can result in yet
another common mistake.  With or without
your awareness you may try to regain that sense of comfort by taking to the
limits such biblical platitudes as “do unto others as you would have them do
unto you,” or “treat others the way you want to be treated.” What this implies
is that you give criticism to others the way you would like to receive it.  So, you adopt an “All About Me” approach when
delivering criticism.  This “All About
Me” approach to giving criticism has the wrong focus.

Your
goal is not to be comfortable when giving criticism; rather, the goal is to be
effective.  You need to step outside
yourself and factor in what you understand to be the receiver’s preferences and
needs.  When you do this, you are putting
aside the “All About Me” approach and practicing a more appropriate adage that
says, “treat others the way they want or need to be treated.”  This mindset is what you need to adopt in
order to have your message heard.  There
should never be any guessing about how best to approach someone you work closely
with or – all the more so – someone who is significant in your life!

Receivers
need to make givers feel comfortable during the criticism exchange. What many
receivers all too often overlook is the fact that most givers don’t like giving
criticism and they have likely never been trained in properly giving
criticism.  Instead of trying to work
with givers, the “I’m Being Attacked” receivers instantly become defensive,
fire off questions, and become argumentative. These receivers fail to see that
making givers uncomfortable is likely to eliminate what could be an important
opportunity in their development and, over time, givers will shut down and put
the need to say something to them at the bottom of their to-do list. 

There
are two main things that receivers can do to make givers feel comfortable. First,
the receiver should avoid interrupting the giver immediately and let them
finish what they have to say. Secondly, the receiver really needs to listen
carefully to what the giver is saying or trying to say. When the criticism is
being delivered, receivers need to keep in mind that most givers have not been
educated in giving criticism and can easily come across awkwardly and be
careless about what is said. Rather than immediately taking a defensive stance,
receivers need to ask questions with the intent of trying to understand whether
the giver is really trying to be helpful and whether there is any potential
value in what the giver is saying. 

Working
on these tips and sharing them with those in your workplace is a great start
toward making sure that messages come across as intended and that receivers
find benefit in what’s said.

Deb Bright, Ed.D., is the author
of The
Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt
(AMACOM; Sept 2014). She is also founder and
president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing
performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE,
Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. Follow her blog at drdebbright.wordpress.com