Most people are wary – both of giving and of receiving criticism. In this series I show how reframing our understanding of criticism and implementing a few best practice rules for how it should be used in the workplace can have win-win-win effects.

Part 3: Reframing criticism

Key organisational best practice can be put in place around criticism and may include:

1) Remember that criticism is someone else’s opinion- and you can agree, partially agree or disagree with it.

2) The first thing to do is to listen carefully, to show respect for the critic by listening to what they say, and asking for clarification and specific examples if needed.

3) Then you can decide whether you agree, partially agree or disagree with what has been said.

  • If you agree with the critique: say so and either say what you are going to do about it or instigate a conversation to decide how to change it.
  • If you partially agree say what part you agree with and what you will do about it, and which part you reject and why.
  • If you disagree with the critique, say so, and give the evidence to back you up. You can then start a conversation with the critic about what prompted the comment, what they might feel if you don’t change anything etc.

  • 4) Remember also that oral criticism delivered to someone is usually softer than in written form – but then the person who is delivering the criticism holds a carefully considered set of arguments, and it would be courteous to share the main ideas with the recipient in advance of a meeting to allow them time to formulate their answer. Offering “I have some thoughts on x that I would like to discuss with you/ hear your views on, I have included a list of bullet areas here. Can we make a time to discuss these ideas in the next day or so?” would be a useful type of approach.

    5) The critic can also help the conversation by stating the positives, ie. what has worked well, alongside the critique, and framing the criticism as seeking to improve the product/ outcome in the future: ie. two colleagues looking together at how to improve something.

    6) The recipient should never to let criticism go unacknowledged: the recipient writes to the critic after the discussion meeting with a list of bullets outlining their learning and response.

    7) Remember that people will only truly accept criticism from someone they trust and respect – so there needs to be a lot of ongoing work spent on building trust and respect in a workplace or relationship before criticism can become a useful tool for learning and growth.

      Critique is a gift - Accept/ partially accept/ reject it - decide what if anything to change - thank them

    In almost any situation criticism, and the discussion it generates, is a wonderfully underutilised asset that has win-win-win effects – output improves, learning, knowledge, motivation and trust improves, and apart from investing a little time - it’s free.

    So dare to invite and give criticism at work, within best practice guidelines, and begin to create exciting respectful learning communities.

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