How to offer criticism without being rude
Criticism is part and parcel of life. It is quintessential in improving our choices and actions. It can help us reach heights that we might not have achieved otherwise. However, no one likes being on the receiving end of criticism, as it can be a hard pill to swallow.
Providing constructive criticism is an art. It requires empathy, sensitivity and a way to tug the heart of the person without hurting them, or rather minimising the hurt on the receiving end so that they understand their shortcomings and find it in their heart to improve. Mastering this art requires practice and reflection. So, here are some ways on how you can deliver better constructive criticisms without coming off as rude or unkind.
Be mindful of your tone and body language
The tone has the power to change the meaning of your message and the intention behind it. While there will be occasions demanding a harsher tone, in most cases, keep your volume down, maintain a relaxed body language, keep a normal demeanour, and be respectful in your tone. Be calm. Make sure you aren't frowning, glaring, or crossing your arms as these subtle cues can raise the other person's defensiveness.
Deliver feedback in private
If you criticise someone in front of others publicly, they will always feel attacked and publicly shamed. So, the best approach is to have this conversation in private, in the absence of anyone else.
Be straightforward and specific
Beating around the bush does not help anyone. Instead of skirting around the topic or being non-descript and vague, adopt a straightforward approach where you present the feedback concisely. Attempting to conceal your criticism through a subtle suggestion or, even worse, in the guise of a passive-aggressive remark, will only cause bewilderment or offence to the person receiving the criticism.
However, being straightforward does not permit anyone to be rude and dismissive. There is a calm and polite way to be straightforward and honest. Lacing your feedback with specificity ensures that the other person knows where and what to change and improve. Narrow your focus to the particular components that are contributing to the issue.
An example could be saying "You were 20 minutes late to our meeting yesterday" in place of "You're always late."
Provide feedback promptly
Be wary of the time you provide feedback. It is advisable to avoid giving feedback immediately after an event or situation. Instead, choose a time when the individual is not under pressure and overwhelmed. Try to provide feedback within a timeframe of 2-7 days from the occurrence of the event. This ensures that the incident is still fresh in the memories of both parties. Delaying feedback may make it less pertinent, thereby diminishing its value as a constructive tool.
For instance, if your employee is making errors, instead of waiting until the end of the month, schedule a time with them within the week to have a brief private meeting where you can discuss the errors and provide solutions.
Focus on the work rather than the person
Criticising a person directly will always turn things sour and will not incite the change you are trying to bring about. Never make it about the person's life or personality traits or attributes. Always ensure that your criticism focuses on the action or lack thereof. As an example, instead of saying "You are lazy and slow," try saying "I noticed you didn't finish the assignment on time. Try to stick to the deadline to avoid the workload piling up and rolling over."
Start statements with "I" rather than "you"
Using statements that start with "you" while providing constructive feedback can come across as a personal attack on the receiving party. An "I" statement makes the feedback less personal, puts focus on your experience, does not come off as an imposition of your own beliefs on the person, and serves as a clarity that you are sharing your own thoughts and not objectives. This primes the individual to accept and absorb your feedback in a much more positive light.
For instance, instead of saying "You never listen to me" which comes off as a blame on someone's personality, try saying "I feel like you don't listen to me enough/I feel like you don't pay enough attention when I'm speaking."
Offer suggestions instead of giving orders
Adopt a softer approach when criticising someone, including subordinates in the workplace. Being in an authoritarian position can tempt you to provide feedback as a command. While such an action might be warranted at extreme moments, it is best to offer suggestions as it raises the probability that your suggestion will be taken under consideration. Saying "I believe another approach may yield better results" is more effective than "You must start doing this differently."
Include positive comments where appropriate
Incorporating compliments can help soften the blow of criticism and make it obvious that you're there to help. This approach allows individuals to dedicate time to refining their strengths, while simultaneously improving their weaknesses.
Have a conversation
Criticism should not be a one-sided blow. Instead, it should be an organic conversation where both parties have the opportunity to put forth their opinions and perspective. You should allow the receiving end to explain their side of the issue. Listen attentively to the individual's perspective and inquire about any underlying reasons for falling short of expectations. If necessary, engage in a constructive debate and validate the individual's thoughts and emotions. It makes it easier to handle the criticism.
By utilising these strategies and approaches for providing constructive criticism, you can create a positive impact, enhance your reputation, and guide more individuals towards achieving success.