Giving criticism of any kind is difficult, though it is often the job of managers and business executives to do so. If we want to be helpful when correcting the mistakes of others, we must always be mindful of the way we do it. Of course, accepting criticism can be even harder to do. Here are some tips for both giving and accepting.
• Remember the golden rule of criticism: It should be given in a spirit of helping to improve an employee's work, which will not only make your criticism more acceptable, but will help to strengthen the relationship between you and the person whose work you are correcting. This is the difference between constructive criticism and the kind that damages an employee's morale. In other words, think of your criticism as positive reinforcement.
• Criticism should always be given behind closed doors, without a third party present.
• Try to make it clear that you have the other person's best interest at heart, and that you only want to help him or her improve in the workplace.
• Always start by referencing the positive behavior of the person you're criticizing.
• After discussing positive behavior, move on to what the employee could do to make his or her work even better.
• Don't be either overly familiar or too imperious (as in "You have to do this, or else!").
• Criticism should never be personal. That is, suggest a positive change in behavior, rather than making comments about the behavior you don't like, as in "It would be better if you wore a business suit to our client meeting," not "You look awful in that short skirt."
• Accepting criticism is much easier if the person delivering it follows the above rules. Unfortunately, not everyone is good at giving criticism, and some people may actually take pleasure in being overly or unkindly critical. In these cases, try to hear what the person is saying that will help you instead of focusing on the unhelpful comments. This is not easy to do, but it is the best way to deal with badly given criticism.
• Try to remember that we can never improve or advance if we don't know how to change for the better. Even if you feel the person criticizing you is not on your side, you can learn from his or her comments. This is called making the best of a bad situation.
• Some people are so overly sensitive that any criticism, even the constructive kind, is a threat to their self-esteem. Try to remember that someone advising you how to do your job better is really doing you a favor, not pronouncing judgment on your worth as a human being. We all need pointers on improving whatever we're trying to do in life.
• Accepting valid criticism means following through on the criticism by figuring out how to change your performance for the better. Ask for help from others if you need it, and make an honest effort to change your behavior. Remember that anything we do is worth doing well.
Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (AMLGroup.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on Twitter and Facebook.