Seven MUSTS for Successful Criticism

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“Because the art of criticism is so little known, and because 99 per cent of the people are so inept at it, the very word criticism leaves as bad taste in our mouths.” So said Les Giblin in “How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People.”

“The real purpose of criticism,” he continued, “is not to beat the other fellow down, but to build him up. Not to hurt his feelings, but to help him do a job better.”

Giblin then went on to describe a conversation he had with a vice-president of American Airlines about why criticism is both necessary and helpful.

“You know, Les,” said the VP, “a pilot coming in for a landing is a good example of successful criticism. Frequently, his flying must be criticized or corrected by the tower. If he’s off course, the tower doesn’t hesitate to tell him so. If he’s coming in too low he’s told about it. If he is going to overshoot the field, he is corrected. Yet I’ve never heard one of our pilots getting offended by this criticism. I’ve never heard one say, ‘Aw, he’s always finding fault with my flying. Why can’t he say something good for a change?'”

Nor does the air traffic controller say, “Well, if that isn’t the dumbest way ever to come in for a landing.” No, he simply says, “You’re coming in too low.”

The criticism is a tool with which both pilot and air traffic controller used together to achieve some useful end result. So can we.

Giblin’s Seven MUSTS for Successful Criticism:

  1. Criticism must be made in absolute privacy. Doing so any other way engages the other person’s ego against you for even the mildest of criticisms.
  2. Preface criticism with a kind word or compliment. Praise, when given sincerely, has an amazing effect on people. In professional coach training, we’re taught that kind words help people feel “seen,” which is fundamental to helping them bring their best to our coaching conversations. As with coaching, as, ironically, with criticizing.
  3. Make the criticism impersonal. Criticize the act, not the person.  This way, you actually build UP the person while pointing out his/her mistakes. “Instead of saying, ‘You’re no good,’ you say in substance, ‘I think you’re much better than this performance would indicate.'”
  4. Supply the answer. Whenever you tell someone they did something wrong, always follow with how to do it right. “The emphasis should not be on the mistake, but the means and ways to correct the mistake and avoid a repetition or recurrence.”
  5. Ask for cooperation; don’t demand it. “‘Will you make these corrections?’ arouses much less resentment than, ‘Do this over, and for Heaven’s sake, this time see that you get it right!'” And NEVER play the Boss card – “Do it now, because I say so.” Instead, should circumstances require immediate compliance, say THAT instead. Employees understand the distinction and will appreciate you making it known.
  6. One criticism to an offense. “To call attention to a given error one time is justified. Twice is unnecessary. And three times is nagging,” wrote Giblin. “Remember your goal in criticism: to get a job done, not to win an ego fight.”
  7. Finish in a friendly fashion.  “Until an issue has been resolved on a friendly note, it really hasn’t been finished.”

So you probably knew these Seven MUSTS for Successful Criticism, didn’t you. But chances are good that you probably also forgot one or two (or three or four) of them somewhere along the way. Maybe that’s why Socrates said, “Learning is remembering.”

Oh, one more thing about all this: Giblin penned it some 56 years ago! Indeed, “How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People,” was published by Penguin Putnam in 1956.

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Making Difficult Decisions Less So

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In Why is it MINE to decide?, I explored why you, the boss, are best-suited to be making the tough calls. Now let’s look at HOW to do that more effectively – less difficultly.

Many bosses are responsible enough, but still avoid ‘hitting things Head On.’ Why? Because they’re often not used to taking appropriate, timely, and decisive methods…SOONER, rather than later. Oh, they might THINK they’re being timely; they might FEEL  they’re being decisive; but if really thought about it, they’d realize that their impact is decidedly NOT ‘hitting things Head On’ – and it’s noticeable.

Important Questions to Help You Hit Things ‘Head On’

Steven Fink, author of Crisis Management, suggests 5 key questions to help focus your attention on the intensity and timeliness of the responses needed to the problems, issues, and crises that regularly (and not so regularly) arise:

  1. INTENSITY – “If your crisis runs the risk of escalating in intensity, how intense might it get, and how quickly?” – What degree of intensity can you or your company endure, and for how long? What, in your opinion constitutes ‘intense’? A flood of angry telephone calls? A burst of vitriolic hate mail? Mass resignation from employees? A sudden rise in your blood pressure? A suspicious pattern of canceled customer orders? You are the only one who can determine what levels or degree of intensity are acceptable. Fink suggests you rate the situation’s INTENSITY from 0 to 10 (with 0 being lowest and 10 being highest).
  2. SCRUTINY – “To what extent would your crisis fall under someone’s watchful eye?” – When problems occur, it’s rare that no one else sees them. Your boss? Influential executives? Human Resources, Legal, Compliance, Accounting? Customers? Vendors? Competitors? The press?  operates in a vacuum. Stakes holders? Fink suggests you rate the situation’s SCRUTINY from 0 to 10.
  3. IMPACT – “To what extent would your crisis interfere with the normal operations of your business?” – Might it affect your ability to get your product or service to market on time, or at all? Might you run short of stock or have too much inventory? Is it possible that you will have to spend so much time dealing with the crisis that you will be unable to tend to other more routine functions of your job properly? Fink suggests you rate the situation’s IMPACT on normal business operations from 0 to 10.
  4. REPUTATION – “Are you (your team, department, company, etc.) the victim or the culprit?” – Knowing the difference will help you determine what collateral damage might occur be to your reputation. Fink suggests you rate the extent to which your reputation would be damaged if this situation is handled poorly and rate it from 0 (no damage) to 10 (severe damage).
  5. COST – “To what extent would your company’s ( or division’s or whatever) bottom line be damaged?” – Hard and soft dollars together, score, as before, from 0 (no cost) to 10 (crippling cost).

Your Crisis Impact Value (CIV)

Now total your five scores and divide by 5 to get what Fink calls your Crisis Impact Value, of CIV. You now have a quantitative number that forecasts an issue’s INTENSITY, level of SCRUTINY it’s likely to receive, IMPACT on normal operations, potential damage to your REPUTATION or career, and COST to the business. As such, it also defines the level-of-attention it both deserves…and REQUIRES.

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Knowing the impact matters. It simplifies. It clarifies.

When you understand the impact of NOT hitting things Head On, it makes it so much easier to, as Fink says, “proactively seek [appropriate, timely, and decisive methods] to eliminate or circumvent the danger.”

Doesn’t it?

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