Tech which makes Sense

The importance of invisible friends

Episode Two: How to Give Constructive Criticism, or What the Heck is Collaborative Problem Solving?

“Hey,” I called to my inner self, “you said you would help me explain the difference between constructive criticism and all those other forms of criticism that people use.”

“Sure, sure,” came a chorus of voices. “Persuasion, you should be the one to answer this question,” said a solo voice from within the choir.

An older man with a short white beard and a weather-beaten face stepped forward to squat in front of me. “How,” he smiled. “Have you caught any fish lately?”

“No,” I shook my head. “I haven’t been fishing since we had our interview.”

“You’re never going to get better if you don’t practice,” he joked. “So what do you want to know about how?”

“Well, when we had our interview about the persuasion process, we skipped the part about how to maintain a critically constructive attitude, and I wanted to go over that now.”

“I don’t really like the term constructive criticism,” he said with a shake of his head. “Sends the wrong message.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well, criticism is pointing out what someone has done wrong. That’s never constructive. It’s one of those oxymorphism things.”

“Do you mean oxymoron?”

“Yeah, like I’m saying it’s a giant shrimp, or it’s an open secret. The same goes for constructive criticism. The only thing criticism does is put people on the defensive or bring them down. It never builds anything constructive.”

“So would you change it to give constructive advice?”

“Nah,” he waved a hand at me. “Advice is almost as bad. People only listen to advice when asked.”

“So what would you call it?”

He screwed up his face for a moment, “What if collaborative problem solving?”

“You have a nice ring,” I admitted. “A bit of a mouthful though.”

“Hmm,” he shrugged. “But much more constructive.”

“So how does it work?”

“Good firsthe said, raising a finger in my face. “Never wait to mention any behavior you want to change, ever. Nothing worse than someone pointing out a problem weeks after the problem occurred. People think: ‘Why did you wait so long to tell me?’ Or sometimes people let things slide until all their frustrations erupt into one giant complaint.” She shook her head, “Both are bad news.”

“I know what you mean. I know people who hold grudges for years, and then bring them up every time you do the smallest thing, like you can do something with the past.”

He chuckled, “Yeah, that’s not even trying to do the constructive thing. That’s just judgmental. I bet you really love those people, okay?” he tilted his head to the side.

“No comment,” I replied. “What’s the second thing?”

Second“, he said making a peace sign with his single finger. “Never try to solve more than one problem at a time. It’s too overwhelming. It makes people feel bad. It brings out bad feelings. One problem at a time, if you want someone to stay open to change.”

I considered for a moment. “I remember reading somewhere that the damage done to someone’s self-esteem by criticism versus the healing power of praise has a ratio of 10 to 1.”

“What do you mean proportion?”

“It’s like if you criticize someone, you damage their self-esteem, and it takes ten acts of sincere praise to heal that damage. Kind of like that anyway.”

“That would explain a lot of things. It makes it worse if you criticize people in public. That’s actually the third “It’s something to remember,” he suddenly turned serious. “Never mention someone’s mistake in public, do it in private. Not unless you believe in public embarrassment.”

“You know,” I said hesitantly. “There are some cultures that use public shaming quite effectively. My assistant told me about a Micronesian custom where they cut the hair of girls who have shamed their family.”

“Yes,” he admitted. “It can work. But you run the risk of creating resentment or making people want to live up to the role of villain. It’s a tough choice. I think public shaming is only good as a last resort. It’s better to catch ineffective behavior early.” with a little collaboration. Problem resolution.

“Good point, so what’s number four?”

Oven, never attempts to solve problems collaboratively when emotional. If you do that, the sessions will focus on you and will not bring about any effective change. It’s a bit like trying to solve two problems at once, your problem plus their problem. It just won’t work. Not at the same time.”

“So how do you make sure you don’t get excited?”

“Before you approach the other person, you need to give yourself some of that emotional air that we’ve been talking about. Solve the problem on your own. Sometimes you find that you don’t need to solve problems collaboratively because the problem was there. with you all the time. Other times, you can plan the steps you want to take if you decide to try to solve a problem collaboratively. Either way, you end up approaching the problem logically instead of emotionally.”

“I think that makes sense,” I nodded thoughtfully. “So now, let’s say I’ve decided to move on, and I’ve also found a time to approach the person in private. What do I actually do?”

“You lead them through the nine steps of persuasion what we talked about in your book,” he said as if it were obvious. You establish trust. You choose your challenges wisely. You get favorable attention. You present the problem. You ask questions to create and confirm understanding. An agreement of necessity is reached. You offer solutions. You confirm the agreement. Follow you.”

Hmm,” I said impressed. “I wasn’t expecting that answer, but you’re so right. It sure puts a spin on what people call criticism.”

“It’s also constructive. In fact, it creates significant change almost 80 percent of the time.”

I laughed, “Never forget the old 80/20 Pareto rule, huh?”

“Never,” he smiled. “Now there are a few other things to consider if you want people to tell you they’re open as you take them through the persuasion process.”

“Hit me,” I told him.

“Try to avoid trigger words like always and never. Telling someone you are forever late gold never unprepared will only put them on the defensive.


“And whenever you can, turn your statements into questions.”


“Instead of saying, ‘You’re late almost every day,’ try asking, ‘Why are you late so often?’ offered.”Here’s another tip, try using I prayers instead of your phrases.

“What are they I prayers Y your phrases?”

‘Instead of saying, ‘You they need to calm down’, which will only make them angrier, you say, ‘me I can’t understand you when you get so excited.”

“I get it,” I nodded. “So instead of saying, ‘You I need to clear things up with that guy, ‘I could say,’me I don’t see how things will get better unless they start talking. It’s okay?”

“Perfect,” he smiled happily. “There’s also a cool technique that John Maxwell talks about in his book, Developing the inner leader. He calls it, ‘Serving people a compliment sandwich.'”

“I used to teach that technique,” I told him enthusiastically. “It’s where you sandwich your criticism between two honest and sincere compliments — you know, between two specific actions that you’ve noticed people doing right.”

“That’s the one,” he smiled. “And as an example, I might say to you, ‘You know, the last time we went fishing, your casting really started to get better. I was hoping you could practice more, so we could go again. Your last casting went almost as far as mine.” .

I laughed, “That’s a much nicer way of telling me I should practice more.”

“It worked?”

“It would have worked if my goal was to beat you at fishing.”

“You mean it isn’t?” she asked with a mock pout.

“Sorry,” I said reaching out to pat her hand. “I only fish to hang out with you.”

“Fair enough,” he squeezed my hand. “One last point, and we’re done. If you really want to help people change, help them focus on specific behaviors that can be changed, not generalities. You shouldn’t point out problems unless you’re willing to help people. discover solutions too. If you tell someone that they are doing something wrong, you should be prepared to show them an alternative that will work better. Understood?”

“I understand.”

“So I think that covers it.”

“Sorry I didn’t take you fishing.”

“Where do you think I’m headed now?” Her eyes sparkled and she left.

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