Have you ever thought about how well you hand out feedback? For most of us, learning to accept critiques (or constructive criticism) is something we have had to work on at some point. It’s not easy to be on the receiving end of a critique, after all. But have you ever stopped to consider how you measure up as the critic? Are you helpful? Or do your critiques end up doing a little more harm than good?
In my line of work, I’m often faced with having to critique the outfits my clients have put together, or even an entire wardrobe during a closet audit. I have learned that in order for a critique to be effective, you have to do it in a constructive, kind way that steers clear of being critical.
Get to the point quickly. Hearing a critique can be uncomfortable for some people, so it’s best to get right to the point. You’ll risk losing their attention and your point may get lost if you are too lengthy. Save your more verbose comments for positive praise!
Be honest, but in a kind way. Being a good critic means that you are also honest. For example, if you tell your girlfriend that you like her blouse to offset or “cushion” a critique on her current hairstyle, when you really don’t think that the blouse flatters her, you aren’t actually doing her a favor. Be honest, but think about how your words will feel to her so that you present your thoughts in a kind, helpful way.
Be specific on the takeaways. Giving feedback to someone is about helping him to improve something about himself, and that works only if you give him an alternative to the thing you are critiquing. Don’t just tell someone that he has a bad habit; offer some specific alternatives to what he is doing to help him create a new behavior that does work.
Be on their side. Friendly feedback should come from a place of genuine concern. You are giving out this advice because you want the other person to better herself, not to put her down. Be clear that you are on her side and are not attacking her.
Remember: Unsolicited feedback will do more harm than good. While the urge to help someone out may be strong, you need to hold back from doling out your opinion to others unless they have asked for it. They won’t be open to the advice, and you could harm your relationship if you aren’t careful. Likewise, if you ever find that you are being given advice you didn’t ask for, don’t feel like you have to take it with a nod and a smile. You can be honest and tell the other person, “Thank you, but I wasn’t asking for your opinion.” It will save you both from saying things that could damage your relationship any further.
Try to focus on giving better critiques in one area of your life, like at work or with a friend or maybe even your spouse. Think about how you’ve felt when you’ve been the recipient and what felt good to you and what didn’t—and let that be a guide for you. In learning to be good at this, you also become a better recipient of feedback.