“In order to excel, you must be completely dedicated to your chosen sport. You must also be prepared to work hard and be willing to accept constructive criticism. Without one-hundred percent dedication, you won’t be able to do this.” ~Willie Mays
Playing a sport, being part of a group or a member of a family, and working in a job all require giving and taking. Participating is not just doing your thing and walking away, yet most of us have done just that. Imagine that Willie Mays did his thing and never allowed anyone to help shape him by listening to their suggestions and insights. He might still have been a great ball player, but he probably wouldn’t have been the star he was. Saying you will try to do a good job isn’t going to help you excel. Being dedicated to your craft means opening yourself up for words that others might offer, for constructive criticism.
There is criticism and there is constructive criticism. Criticism is when you tell someone what you see as their faults with the goal really being to make yourself feel better or them feel worse. If you share your opinion with someone about things that might help them do their job better or improve their performance in a game with the intent of helping them, you are offering constructive criticism. The intent is as important as the delivery. I’ve been told many times that I’m too sensitive and thin-skinned, and I might very well be, but in most cases the speaker has criticized not very constructively.
Think for a minute about the words you speak to people. How are your suggestions received? If you notice that people often are offended at your suggestions, you might want to look at how you are delivering your message and with what intent.
It was suggested several years ago that I might be healthier if I quit eating bread. I loved a good sandwich, but it seemed that bread and I needed to part ways, and we did. Recently, though, the sandwich has been reintroduced to me in a new way. Still bread-free in my eating, this type of sandwich has really whet my appetite for being a better person.
I joined a photography group to which I submit a themed photo each week. It is suggested that each participant also offer constructive criticism to the three photos on either side of their own in the weekly album. In discussing how to best share my remarks, it was suggested that we use the sandwich method. This was something I hadn’t heard before, but it bears repeating:
Say something nice, follow with the constructive criticism, and end with something nice. In essence, you make a feedback sandwich with the soft stuff on the outside and the real substance within, just like a sandwich.
Maybe your sandwich is two pieces of sourdough bread with peanut butter and jelly in between, or perhaps you prefer rye bread with the makings for a Reuben inside of the slices. If the sandwich or the words don’t sound tasty to you, they might not sound any tastier to the recipient.
The constructive criticism in the photo group sometimes stings when I realize that I’m just not as advanced as I had hoped. If I’m trying to be a better person, though, I need to learn to give and receive constructive criticism well. There is all kinds of research on giving and receiving constructive criticism, so I’ve tried to narrow down the best tips to help both parties.
Giving Constructive Criticism:
- Unless you are an employer giving a job review, ASK if the person would be open to your suggestions.
- Be specific, not personal. Telling someone they are doing a lousy job on their reports doesn’t help them be better at their job. It sounds like a personal criticism. Telling someone that the reports would make more sense to you when written a particular way or that they should include specific information is much more helpful. To be most specific, have your points in writing.
- Think about your voice, timing, and delivery. A quick reaction in a loud voice in a public setting is not likely to be received the way you want it to be if you want positive results. Embarrassing a person in front of his or her peers is a poor choice of delivery. Instead, have a private meeting after thinking through the words you want to say. The person might not like what you have to say, but when the message is genuine and sincere, there is a greater chance of a positive outcome.
Receiving Constructive Criticism:
- Listen for words that will help you be better at your job–whether it’s at work, on a team, in the family. Detach from words that could be personal. Your self-worth is not determined by the possibly mingled message of someone else.
- Make notes to help yourself stay focused on what needs improvement. When you have written your own words for things to improve or change, items become more tangible and doable.
- Choose your attitude. We can’t help but hear the personal negatives when criticisms aren’t worded thoughtfully, so make a choice to hear what will be helpful to you. It might still be hurtful to know that you aren’t doing as well as you thought you were, but when you can listen with an attitude of wanting to improve, you stand a greater chance of success.
If people are often offended by your constructive criticism, take steps to improve your delivery method. If you are often crushed by the feedback most people give you, take steps to make it less personal. Want to be a better person? Be dedicated, completely dedicated, to your sport, your job, your role in your family, and be prepared to give and receive feedback that will help everyone be better than they were before.