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If You Don't Have Anything Nice To Say

.say it anyway - but make it constructive, says psychologist Hendrie Weisinger.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the June 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Hendrie Weisinger, a psychologist who dubs himself a "critiqueologist," has written the book-several critically acclaimed ones, actually-on how to productively criticize in the workplace. He points out that the way criticism is usually given doesn't get the results we want: improvement in behavior, either that of our employees or, in the case of customers telling us what we're doing wrong, of our own.

From explaining timing in critiquing performance to the importance of doing so in a calm manner, Weisinger outlines the rules in his latest analysis, The Power of Positive Criticism (AMACOM). We asked him to criticize, well, criticism.

What's the biggest mistake in the way criticism is usually offered?

You get off on the wrong foot by trying to find flaws in what someone did. You have to go back to Aristotle, who coined the word, to understand what criticism is supposed to be: making a judgment for the sake of improvement. This isn't just semantics; it aligns our attitude with the result we want, which is change. The individual being criticized should be encouraged to look at ways to get results. We've started using feedback as a euphemism for positive criticism, but that's because we don't recognize that criticism isn't a negative word.

So the exact wording of what you say flows from your attitude?

Right. Those who consistently get good responses to their criticism are very careful about what they say. They never use the words "never" or "always," because as soon as you do that, the person being criticized gets defensive and starts thinking of the exceptions. It's better to say "sometimes." And don't emphasize what someone "did"-that freezes the action in the past, which is something they can't do anything about. Tell them what they're doing that can be done differently in the future.

What can you do after the initial criticism to make sure you get the results you've asked for?

You want to set the right level of expectations. If your expectations are realistic, there's a good chance the people will get to where you want them to go. The key here is to follow up, to let them know you're offering support, that this isn't going to go away until there's productive action. You'll be there to help them along the way. And then reward them as they make the changes you want.

Scott S. Smith does the interviews for Supply Chain Technology News.

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