DEALING WITH CRITICISM

Gregg Walker, Dept. of Speech Communication, Oregon State University

Criticism may occur within conflict situations or can foster conflict.  Criticism, or the generation of "evaluative judgments," is often painful or difficult to "give" or "receive."  If handled appropriately by both the person criticized and the person being criticized, critical feedback can promote constructive growth in individuals and relationships.

Constructive Criticism - Some Assumptions
1.  Criticism arises out of interaction, rather than simply action.  Evaluation is important to improvement, but criticism should follow a "two way street."  Criticism is more valid when all parties involved interact both as the "critic" and the "criticized."

2.  Those who criticize need to value and invite criticism.  Criticism can be promoted if the critic first invites criticism of his or her own behavior.  By inviting criticism, a person can create a situation in which her or his criticism of another is perceived as appropriate.

3.  The "Critic" and "Criticized" guidelines that follow are pertinent to all parties involved in "criticism" discussion.

Constructive Criticism - Guidelines for the Critic
1.  Understand why you are offering criticism.  Feel confident that doing so is appropriate to the situation and constructive for the parties involved.  Criticism voiced out of self-interest or competition may be destructive.

2.  Engage in perspective taking or role reversal.  As you develop a criticism strategy or response, try to understand the perspective of the person being criticized.

3.  Offer criticism of the person's behavior, not on her or his "person."  Refer to what a person does, not her or his "traits," or "character."

4.  Even though criticism implies evaluation, emphasize description.  Before offering any judgment, describe behavior you see or have experienced.

5.  Focus your criticism on a particular situation rather than general or abstract behavior.  "Index" and "date" your criticism, much like a "journalist": deal with who, what, where, and when.

6.  Direct your criticism to the present ("here and now") rather than the past ("there and then").

7.  Emphasize in your criticism your perceptions and feelings.  Indicate what you think and feel about the other's behavior that you have described.  Use "I" statements.

8.  Invite a collaborative discussion of consequences rather than offering advice.  Form a partnership to deal with problems.  Do not compete with the other party; compete with the other person against the problem.

9.  Keep judgments tentative.  Maintain an "open door" of dialogue rather than presenting your "analysis" or "explanation" of another's behavior.

10. Present criticism in ways that allow the other party to make decisions.  Do not force criticism on the other.  Encourage the other to experience "ownership."  People are more likely to comply with solutions that they generate.

11. Avoid critical overload.  Give the other an amount of critical feedback that she or he can handle or understand at that time.

12. Focus criticism on behaviors that the other person can change.

13. Include in your critical feedback a positive "outlet."  Reinforce positive actions and invite the possibility of change.

14. Invite the other to present criticism of you.

Constructive Criticism - Guildelines for the Criticized
1.  Recognize the value of constructive criticism.  Such criticism can improve relationships and productivity.

2.  Engage in perspective taking or role reversal.  Try to understand the perspective of the person offering criticism.

3.  Acknowledge criticism that focuses on your behavior.  Attempt to transform criticism that seems directed at your "person" to specific behavioral issues.

4.  Listen actively.  Even though criticism may hurt, seek to understand accurately the criticism being presented.
    a.  Paraphrase what the other is saying.
    b.  Ask questions to increase understanding.
     c.  Check out nonverbal displays (check your perceptions).

5.  Work hard to avoid becoming defensive.  Resist any tendency to want to dismiss criticism or retaliate.

6.  Welcome criticism; use the criticism appropriate to improve.

7.  Maintain your interpersonal power and authority to make your own decisions.  Criticism, when directed at one's "person," may weaken one's resolve.  Focus the other's criticism on your actions.  Seek ownership of solutions.

8.  Seek constructive changes to the behavior that prompted the criticism.

9.  Insist on valid criticism.  Valid criticism: (a) addresses behaviors, (b) is timely, and (c) is specific.

10.  Communicate clearly how you feel and think about the criticism and receiving criticism.  Use "I" messages.