Fire Mary Poppins: The key to giving constructive criticism

Inside the No. 1 mistake people make when giving negative feedback

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For some, giving constructive criticism is as bad as being on the receiving end. It's often difficult to determine exactly how to get the message across.

But Harvard Medical School's Steven Berglas says the answer is simple: Just spit it out.

"Deliver constructive feedback rapidly in its raw form," he writes in Harvard Business Review. "This doesn’t mean harshly; there’s a way to soften blows without delaying them if you strive to be empathic. Just never make it seem like you’re avoiding hard cold facts. All that does is make the facts seem worse than they are."

If you think about it from that perspective, it makes a lot of sense. What’s the best way to take off a Band-Aid – millimeter by excruciating millimeter or just one quick, fast rip?

Berglas points to psychologist Dr. Edward E. Jones, who researched subjects giving critiques to role-playing employees.

"Those who expressed what was wrong immediately were significantly more respected than those who began with praise and ended with, 'the bad news is…' " Berglas notes. "Who hasn’t been enraged by a putz who wanted to deliver criticism and started his spiel by saying, 'With all due respect, Adam…' Don’t folks know that in the argot of the business world, 'with all due respect' means 'screw you'?"

Other tips:

Know your subject

If the person receiving the criticism is not used to negative feedback, "handle with care." Berglas notes that those unfamiliar with such critiques "were often devastated by constructive criticism and actually sought to ignore or deny it." This is where you work on softening the impact without obfuscation or excessive delay.

Don't set a timetable

The worst thing a manager can do after criticizing a person is set a timetable for improvement, he notes: “What you’re doing is adding fuel to a negative fire."

via Harvard Business Review

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