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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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