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The Art of Giving Criticism

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The Art of Giving Criticism

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I’ve written previously about the wonderful affect giving someone a compliment has on their sense of self-esteem and general wellbeing.  Indeed, research has shown that people often prefer compliments to any other form of remuneration (financial or otherwise).

Suffice to say however, praise and thanks is not always something you can give.  There are times when the feedback isn’t of the positive variety and you need to tell someone what they’ve done wrong.

Rutgers University professor Daniel Goleman explains in a recent Harvard Business Review how receiving criticism can trigger anxiety and negative emotion.  These feelings then result in us shutting down emotionally and barring our way from coming up with a constructive means of improving.

A better approach, Goleman says, is to talk to that employee about their dreams instead.  Using neurology, he believes he’s found the way to delivering improved performance is to talk about positive goals and dreams as this then opens up the individual to new possibilities.

These dream based discussions trigger the same reward parts of the brain that are triggered by positive feedback, with dopamine dosing the person up with positive feelings.

It’s a line of thought shared by David Rock, author of the book Quiet Leadership.  He outlined three main ways advice goes wrong.

Autobiographical: It’s based on the needs and experiences of the giver, not the intended recipient.

Misdirected: It’s focused on the wrong problem. ”The dilemma that people first put forward,” Rock says, “is almost always not their main issue” because if they “were clear about the central challenge… they probably would have solved it anyway.”

Rejected: It’s virtually impossible to get people to act solely by giving them advice. People tend to reject ideas offered by others in favor of their own. In fact, Rock recommends, “if you have the exact idea that someone needs to hear, definitely don’t tell them,” as they are likely to reject it and be worse off.

Performance reviews, and indeed all instances of feedback, are an invaluable time to build engagement and improve performance, but they need to be done properly if the opportunity is to be maximised.

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