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Here's a question guaranteed to make your stomach lurch: "Would you mind if I gave you some feedback?"
What that actually means is "Would you mind if I gave you some negative feedback, wrapped in the guise of constructive criticism, whether you want it or not?"
The problem with criticism is that it challenges our sense of value. Criticism implies judgment and we all recoil from feeling judged. As Daniel Goleman has noted, threats to our esteem in the eyes of others are so potent they can literally feel like threats to our very survival.
The conundrum is that feedback is necessary. It's the primary means by which we learn and grow. So what's the best way to deliver it in a way that it provides the greatest value — meaning the recipient truly absorbs and acts on it?
There are three key behaviors, I believe, and they're each grounded in the recognition that what we say is often less important than how we say it.
1. The first mistake we often make is giving feedback when we are feeling that our own value is at risk. That's a recipe for disaster, and it happens far more commonly than we think, or are aware.
If we're feeling threatened or diminished by another person's perceived shortcomings, providing "constructive criticism" becomes secondary to getting our value back. We're more likely to be reactive, insensitive and even hurtful.
If it's about us, it's not truly about them. Any time we provide feedback with the goal of getting someone to better meet our needs, rather than being responsive to theirs, it's unlikely to prompt the desired outcome.
A classic example is the parent who confuses his own worth with his child's performance, and reacts to the child's missteps with harshness and judgment rather than sensitivity and compassion.
2. The second mistake we make in...