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How to Give Feedback without Criticism

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Everyone needs to give feedback to others from time to time. If the feedback is positive, it's a pleasure. But sometimes constructive feedback is required to suggest a change in someone's actions or behavior. While these discussions can easily turn into arguments or conflicts, they should really be viewed as problem-solving conversations. The following suggestions can make feedback more comfortable and productive.

A. Manage Your Attitude

Stay calm:   Unless a delay will result in disaster, never give anyone feedback when you're angry or upset.

Be clear about your goals:   Know what you want to accomplish by having this discussion. Sacrifice smaller points in the interest of larger objectives.

Express appreciation:   Sincerely telling someone what you appreciate can make constructive feedback easier to accept.

Don't criticize or argue:   You want problem-solving, not conflict. If you start to criticize or argue, STOP!

B. Empathize

Imagine their point of view:  Try to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Anticipate their reaction to your comments.

Ask questions to understand their situation:  If you aren't sure of their point of view, then ask questions and listen. When someone gives you feedback, be sure that you understand their viewpoint before you automatically launch into your counter-arguments.

C. Neutralize

Talk about facts and observations, not assumptions:  To reduce defensiveness, use neutral language. Focus on facts and observations. Avoid accusations and blaming.

Talk about the problem, not the person:  If you are upset with someone, don't talk about their negative personality traits. Focus on the issue.

Share observations with "I-statements".  Minimize the word "you": An "I-statement" expresses what you have observed or felt, NOT what the other person is doing wrong. "You" sounds accusatory, not neutral. Instead of "You always" or "You ought to", try saying "I've observed" or "I've noticed . .".

D. Educate

Discuss the effects of the problem:  Explain why you are concerned about the situation – that is, the effect on you, your co-workers, your work, the company, etc. People often do not realize the impact of their behavior on others, even when it seems obvious.

Use reversals or analogies to shift their point of view:  Encourage the other person to see things differently by reversing the situation – that is, putting them in your shoes – or using an analogy to give them a different frame of reference.

Describe your feelings with "I-statements":  To convey how they are affecting you, try saying "I feel" or "My problem is", NOT "You never" or "You should".

E. Cooperate

Look for common goals:  Identify shared interests, needs, or concerns as you try to solve the problem. Try to find areas of agreement.

Engage in give and take.  Expand the options: Be willing to make concessions and compromises. You may also be part of the problem! Propose strategies and solutions that neither party may have previously considered.

End with action steps:  Agree on what will be different in the future – both what they will do and what you will do. Unless you end with action steps, nothing is likely to change.

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