Criticism can make people grow or discourage them. Criticism can be devastating when it no longer values what the other person does well. And far too often it is said that whether the criticism is well received depends on the recipient. Critical ability is the magic word and young people in particular are often accused of lacking it. The lack of this critical ability is then linked to “wrong” reactions to criticism: the person defends himself, looks for reasons or shows emotions.
In my opinion, the fact that young people in particular react in this way is due to two factors: First, they inevitably have less experience with criticism. Second, they lack the ability to distinguish necessary elements of feedback from unnecessary and often unfair elements. In this way, the components of the criticism mix into something that triggers a defensive stance.
This is due to the fact that many people are nowhere near as good at criticizing others as they might think themselves. The ability to criticize is not just a question of dignified reception. It is also a question of appropriate presentation. This of course includes naming important things, even if it may be tough. But good criticism also includes avoiding certain elements.
As you sensibly criticize
Clever criticism has to be learned. A strategy is required, as is any targeted communication. Six elements can help to prepare well for a feedback discussion and to get through it.
1. Good criticism needs a positive goal
Whoever criticizes says what went badly. However, this only makes sense if it is also discussed what would have been better. Criticism is good if the recipient knows from the start how the partially failed action would have turned out better.
2. Good criticism needs structure
Tension arcs are often not effective in communication. They distract because an inner tension arises: those who are criticized wait anxiously for the grand finale. If you withhold from your counterpart what he or she would have wished for too long, you weaken the effect of the message. The classic advice to smear a criticism sandwich might be a good place to start. More experienced critics, however, prefer to focus on their actual goal than on dusty leadership tips. And that will usually be more complex.
What should the other person take away from the criticism? This question should be the central element of preparation before any feedback discussion. After poorly presented criticism, only dissatisfaction could remain. A clear mandate to act would be more valuable. It has to be precisely formulated and take up the most space in the conversation. Supreme discipline: name the job again at the end of the conversation and create an optimistic mood.
4. Avoid using stylistic devices
If you have to engrave something particularly deep, use sharp weapons for it. Unfortunately, this also applies to criticism: personal disappointment, generalized doubts about the counterpart, authoritarian behavior. And since that’s still normal, we shouldn’t be surprised when people react emotionally. Nobody likes to be put down. The belief that someone memorizes a lesson really well if it is presented sharply fires back in another place: It weakens the relationship. And that robs the criticism of some of its relevance.
5. Accepts emotions
Nobody likes to go wrong. Even objective, friendly criticism can therefore trigger self-doubt or emotions. And that’s fine. The quickest way back to the factual level is through recognition and understanding: “You are honored that you take my feedback seriously.”
6. Follow up instead of stepping on
Getting in touch again after the conversation serves the relationship. Critics can open the door for questions with a friendly e-mail. Not so good: Thank you for understanding, if this is not particularly emphasized. Relationships are most stable when communication takes fact into account, not wishful thinking.
Criticism is good when the other person can continue to work with it and the relationship is not burdened – ideally, it is encouraged. You don’t need a soft, cuddly conversation for this. Most of the time it is enough to stay on the factual level and at the same time openly encounter the emotions of the other person. Anyone who wants to teach others something through their criticism always teaches two lessons: the ones that are actually at stake. And a lesson in criticizing.
How you accept criticism well
It is not nice to be criticized. Earned or undeserved, from a respectable source or unsolicited from the sidelines – criticism disrupts operations and often requires a reaction. The good news: Everyone can control how he or she deals with the criticism. And thus also give the critics a framework for their criticism.
1. Don’t justify yourself all the time
“Apologies are not printed” is one of the first lessons I heard as a young journalist. And it’s true. If something doesn’t work, that’s the way it is. Well-meaning critics in particular don’t deserve a tirade of excuses. They just wanted to help you. When the need for justification gets too strong, hold it back for a moment.
2. Separates the factual level from the emotions
Yes, some people criticize emotionally and then expect objective obedience. This turns the feedback discussion into a manipulation trap. Dealing with that is difficult. The smartest strategy is to first ask for clarification of the factual level: “What exactly went wrong?”
Apologizing for disappointing the other may or may not be appropriate. Those who are emotionally criticized may react emotionally to it themselves – and take a defensive stance. Sometimes it is enough to raise the conversation to the factual level and stay there for the time being. There is still time for the emotional state later, when all minds are chilled.
3. Own emotions are of course allowed – but need internal moderation
Rolling your eyes internally is allowed, but should not spoil your concentration. At the same time, it’s perfectly normal – and very okay – to be disappointed in yourself. However, your own negative emotions can prevent you from benefiting from the criticism. If you want to deal with criticism well, you have to make sure that you understand its content. Again, it makes sense to save the feelings for later.
4. Asks questions
If the critic remains vague in the message, but seems to be important to you, then ask. Whoever does not name the core of his message has to answer: “What exactly is missing? How could I have done it better? ”If the question remains open, make sure you also clarify whether you are allowed to rework immediately.
The ability to criticize is not a one-way street. Both sides have to learn it. And both sides have a good crisis discussion if they respond to each other, ask questions and have a clear idea of the outcome with which they want to leave this conversation.