It's the time of year for performance reviews and evaluations. As I started reviews last week with my senior managers, I started thinking about how best to deliver negative or critical information.
How do you communicate critical thought without sounding negative? Here are a few tips.
1) Move forward
Stay away from negative statements like "should" and "should not." No one wants to hear about what they "should" have done in the past. Communicate alternative, future courses of action that lead to more desired results. A simple addition of the phrase "moving forward," lets the person on the receiving end of your critical thoughts know there's a plan and the past isn't going to impede the future.
2) Focus on "how"
Criticism is just critical without context. Asking "why did you do that?" is sure to put the person you are communicating with on the defensive. Instead of asking "why," ask "how?" By focusing on how things get done, attention shifts toward group action and processes rather than on the mistakes or shortcomings of one person.
3) Personalize & De-personalize
Use "I" when expressing an opinion or criticism directed at the individual, yet avoid using the word "you" as the target of the criticism. For example, instead of saying "you did not do X correctly," say something like "I think X is X."
When giving criticism, it's also important to give the person on the receiving end an opportunity to communicate and be heard. More often than not, there are pieces of information that you haven't considered or don't know. If a person doesn't feel heard, he or she may find it very difficult to hear, understand, and accept the criticism.
Be open to alternative viewpoints! Never close yourself off to one way of thinking. Effective critical thinking involves the ability to incorporate new ways of seeing things, and criticism is rarely received well when it's presented from a close-minded perspective.
When you feel a criticism is ready and/or necessary to communicate with another person, take a few moments to breathe and find the most constructive aspects. In other words, don't get upset and spout-off criticisms. Instead, take the time to formulate the reasons for and aspects of the criticism in the first place.