Chaplain Newsletter Vol 1, no. 4 Sept 2019
The Fall is here, but I hope the summer weather will at least continue into September. As part of our continued response to some aspects and issues we face at our St Joe’s Supper Table and our Summer Project for our volunteers and friends here’s another important issue dealing with people skills!
Celestine Chua writer and founder of PersonalExcellence.co. gives us this week’s theme on How to Give Constructive Criticism: 6 Helpful Tips. She starts off with this quote and tip to remember that, ‘People seldom refuse help, if one offers it in the right way’ by A. C. Benson. And then asks have you ever wanted to give constructive criticism on something, but held back from doing so because you did not know how to convey your ideas across or have seen people do it in the wrong way?
Whether at work or in relationships, sharing and receiving feedback is part and parcel of improvement. If you have ideas on how someone can improve, don’t hold your ideas back — rather, share your criticism constructively. Of course, to be sensitive to others’ feelings and offer feedback when you feel the other person is ready to take it. Otherwise, you may come across as imposing your views on others, especially if you repeatedly tell others what to do without them asking for your opinion. And so:
- Use the Feedback Sandwich
The feedback sandwich method is a popular method of giving constructive criticism. It is often used in Toastmasters and in the corporate environment. Some refer to it as the feedback sandwich or PIP, which stands for Positive-Improvement-Positive. There are people who use PIP to represent Praise-Improve-Praise which is different from this version. You start off by focusing on the strengths — what you like about the item in question. Then, you provide the criticism — things you don’t like, the areas of improvement. Lastly, you round off the feedback with (a) a reiteration of the positive comments you gave at the start and (b) the positive results that can be expected if the criticism is acted upon.
It’s called the “feedback sandwich” because you wedge your criticism between an opening and an ending — like a patty wedged between two buns.
The feedback sandwich method is most appropriate when you are giving criticism to people you don’t know or don’t know well. Otherwise you may come across as very aggressive and rude if you just jump right into the critique.
- Focus on the situation, not the person
Constructive criticism focuses on the situation, not the person. How to apply this tip:
Firstly, detach the situation from the person. This distinction is crucial. Take the person out of the equation and focus on the behavior / action / situation / issue at hand.
Comment on the issue, not the person. For example, “The clothes are dirty” and not “You are dirty.” “The report is late” and not “You are late.” “The food is oily” and not “You are a bad cook.”
Don’t make personal attacks. Comments like “I’m so sick and tired of…” or “You’re so stupid / negative / lazy / unorganized / ” come across as accusatory. Stay away from attacks.
Don’t use active voice; use passive voice. Example of active voice vs. passive voice: “You gave a bad presentation.” vs. “The presentation you gave was bad.” Notice that the passive voice shifts the attention away from the person and brings it to the subject matter.
Share how it affects you. Rather than go on and on about how bad the thing is, share how it affects you. This shifts the focus away from the person and onto yourself, which lets the person take a step back to evaluate the situation. It also gives him/her insight to where you are coming from.
- Be specific with your feedback
The third tip to providing constructive criticism is to be specific. If you want very actionable outcomes, if you want people to help you in a more targeted way, give specific vs. vague feedback. Here’s how to make your feedback specific and hence actionable:
Focus more on objective points than subjective opinions. Just saying “I don’t like it” is not helpful. On the other hand, stating the specific things you do not like, is helpful.
Break your feedback down into key points. Don’t give your feedback as one big lump. Break it down into various key points, then give your feedback point by point.
Give specific examples of each point. What are the exact situations or examples where the person exhibits the behaviors you highlighted in #2? Point them out. There is no need to highlight every single example – just pointing out 1-2 key examples per point will be sufficient. The intention here is to (a) bring the person’s awareness to things which he/she may be oblivious about and (b) illustrate what you mean.
- Comment on things that are actionable
The whole point of giving feedback is to help the person improve. Hence talk about things which the person can do something about, rather than things that are out of his/her control. Critiquing the former makes your criticism constructive; critiquing the latter just makes the person feel bad because he/she can’t do anything about it, even if he/she wants to. While you can make points on the latter especially if they are very crucial, balance things out by talking about things he/she can control. Knowing what’s actionable and unactionable requires you to be empathetic. Understand the person’s situation and his/her objectives, then provide your critique based on that.
- Give recommendations on how to improve
When all is said and done, give recommendations on what the person can do to improve.
Firstly, your recommendations will tie up your critique in a nice bow. Everyone has varying perspectives, which means every critique can be interpreted in different ways. Giving recommendations will give the person a clear idea of what you have in mind. Secondly, recommendations provide a strong call-to-action. You want the person to act on what you have shared, not procrastinate.
With your recommendations, it is recommend to (a) be specific with your suggestions and (b) briefly explain the rationale behind the recommendation.
- Don’t make assumptions
A final tip for giving constructive criticism is not to make assumptions. When providing criticism, do so within what you know as fact about the person and the subject. There’s no need to make any assumptions. Not only does it make the person look bad, it also makes you look bad — especially when your assumption is wrong. Not having a presumptuous attitude will go a long way in any communication, not just in giving criticism.