Erasing Criticism

Erasing Criticism
By Sande Roberts

Please join my campaign to erase criticism from everyone’s vocabulary.

After spending the weekend working on my book, Turning Bad Bosses and Crummy Co-workers into Great Teams, I settled in on the chapter about the difference between correction and criticism.

While this has always been an important topic, it’s even more on my mind right now as I’ve addressed this four times in the past two months during various speaking engagements. It’s so important, that during one recent talk, I gave out erasers to help everyone remember that the word criticism needs to be eradicated, not just modified.

There’s no such thing as constructive criticism. The very word ‘criticism’ is just that: Criticism. I know there are many well meaning people who are trying to offer help and they start out by telling you it’s just constructive criticism, or that it isn’t criticism at all.

A few weeks ago, I was participating in the practice round of a certification training; (yes, trainers should always participate in training opportunities themselves) and I was the first of a few dozen people to present during a series of practice sessions.

The facilitator of the program is a brilliant person who is massively supportive and encouraging to everyone in the program.

There were six of us giving ten-minute presentations on the first day. We were using unfamiliar formats and equipment and none of us were quite sure what to expect.

After my presentation, the facilitator was trying to be helpful and wanted me to know she wasn’t being critical, by prefacing her comments with:  “This isn’t criticism.” I’m not sure where my brain went, however my ears stopped working after hearing the word criticism because I was waiting to hear what I had done or said that was wrong. Even though it was a user friendly setting, my mind was setting up the defenses to answer the criticisms. As I listened to the other presenters, I heard the criticism disclaimer a few more times over the course of the rest of the practice sessions. And even though I knew the intentions were positive, my mind perked to listen for what was wrong with each participant and the yucky challenged side of my brain was thinking, ‘well at least I wasn’t the only one who messed it up’. I actually had to listen to the recording of my presentation to hear what was really said.

The facilitator for our program had the best intentions, and is absolutely not a critical person, yet while trying to be kind, the word choice, even with the disclaimer, can be distracting at best and upsetting at worst.

In the unlikely event that you actually want to make someone feel bad, the word criticism, without any disclaimers, would then be used in the correct context. However, here are some more constructive approaches to be of service to another person:
1. Brainstorming
This is an open process where multiple ideas are desired and anything goes and nothing is wrong. Even ideas that couldn’t possibly be implemented could spark a fabulous idea.

2. Suggestions
Suggestions are just suggestions. There is not a requirement to adapt them into the work. I’m grateful for colleagues who will review my work and make suggestions.

Once when I was putting an information sheet together I sent it to seven colleagues asking for suggestions and corrections. What was extremely interesting is that two people sent it back saying it looked great as is. The other five each spotted different parts that they commented on with suggestions and a few places where technical corrections were needed. This helped me immensely in creating a better end product.

3. Revisions
A revision is where something needs to be changed and suggestions on what and how to implement them may be open for discussion.

Perhaps there is a portion of the content where the message isn’t as strong as it could be, or possibly too strong, and the author is asked to pop it up or tone it down a little.

4. Updates
There’s new information that requires changing the content and possibly the context of the work. New policies, practices or processes need to be brought to attention so that the message is current and the content correct.

5. Corrections
There are actual errors in need of repair. This could be from minor (spelling or tense error) to major content and context information. I’m personally grateful for colleagues who are willing to take time to review and revise potential errors that could embarrass me if they were left in the work.

It isn’t always easy to know exactly how to approach people when their work needs some form of adaptation. This is why it’s beneficial to understand where a person is in their Four Colors communication styles, and where they are in relationship to the Three Choices and Five Stages which can be found on the Real Life Skills Workshops website.

I would love to hear how being able to erase the word criticism from your workplace would be beneficial. Share your stories with me and I will give a hone-hour coaching session, on how to implement this concept into the workplace, to the six most compelling requests. Information shared is confidential.

You can reach me at SandeRoberts@mac.com. Requests must be received by the end of the workday on Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Each individual who receives a coaching session can choose to participate via phone, Skype, or in person if you are in the Phoenix, Arizona area.

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