How to give criticism constructively

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Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them. Dalai Lama

After a few knocks to my confidence, I mustered up the courage to go for a job interview. The recruitment consultant wrapped up by sitting back in her chair and looking at me with eagle-evil eyes. She concluded our meeting by telling me that my answers were “fluffy” and the managers wouldn’t have a bar of it. I must admit, the way she approached it felt very … “corporate”. Isn’t that sad that the corporate world has become so hardened, serious and political that it can actually be used in a way to describe such an ugly vibe?

I returned home and spent the entire afternoon in a pit of despair. My confidence was shattered and my thoughts were negative: I’m unemployable. (Although technically I had a job at the time – just not the one I wanted.) At that time, the “feedback” had been crushing. It should be noted that generally I don’t take criticism so badly – in fact, I usually get excited by criticism and see it as an opportunity to grow – but when what is said is lacking the constructive element, and the person is already run down and lacking in confidence for whatever reason, it makes it difficult to put into perspective.

What that recruitment consultant didn’t know was that I studied for that interview for three days straight – I’m simply just not that great at interviews! That’s what disheartened me the most. I didn’t lie in the interview, I didn’t make up any answer, I just … didn’t have the polished responses she was after. Not that it mattered. Judging by the way the feedback was managed, she was too busy making me feel as though I had wasted her time rather than considering what may have been going on in my life at the time and how her words may have impacted me. So what could she have done differently?

It’s important when offering critical feedback to remember that everyone has their own issues at any given time. Life isn’t a talent show – you are not Kyle Sandilands! Upon further thought I concluded that perhaps recruiters could be more helpful by looking at their clients and having suggestions for helping them: sending them to interview coaching, recommending job training or courses to assist polish up their skills and build confidence.

Something I don’t understand is that recruiters, and even people in positions of power to hire, often overlook people because they are bad at interviews. Thing is – they can still do a really good job! People that are good at interviews, with all the correct responses, may be well trained and rehearsed rather than actually confident in what they can actually do in a job.

How can recruitment consultants give criticism more effectively?

– Communicate better: if you receive a “fluffy” answer, probe further, explain at the time why you think it is unsatisfactory at the time of receiving the answer – give the person a chance before assuming the worst

– If you don’t receive the answer you are after, say what is wrong with it

– Ask more in-depth questions. If your candidate is struggling to take the lead, help them out, you can always tell them what areas they need to work on for the next stage of the interview

– Don’t be so sceptical. While some people do lie on their resumes, others honestly don’t – and honesty should come across in the interview. If the person appears honest, give them a chance to prove themselves – it’s the job of the recruiter to ask the right questions

– Don’t be negative! You don’t know what you don’t know, remember that people always have their own problems in their life without you adding to the hurt. If you don’t think the candidate is up for going forward, tell them honestly that you won’t put them forward or offer to retract their resume if they wish. Give the applicant options

– Quit thinking of yourself! Life isn’t all about money and your commission. It costs nothing to be kind to someone. Don’t say “you have no confidence” and not follow up. Giving suggestions, for example, “Perhaps you would come across as more confident if you did this, or if you tried this…” etc.

– Send the candidate everything they need for the interview, if you forget to do it, then you’re incompetent, not the candidate. Do you know how many times I’ve walked into the interview and the recruitment consultant goes “Oh? Didn’t I send you that?” Like it was my fault? It just leaves me feeling frustrated, helpless and feeling as though other candidates had the upper hand as they had more information to help them prepare.

How can YOU give criticism constructively?

– Try to understand the other person, consider your expectations and work out why or why not that person may have said or acted the way they did

– Tell the person what they’re doing wrong, and give some options and examples of how they could improve

– Give positive feedback as close to the event or accomplishment as possible and for negative feedback, consider timing. Don’t overload the person with more stress, wait until their in a position to listen to you by setting a meeting, outlining the content of the meeting and allowing that person to prepare properly

– Give as much information as you can, to assist the other person with how they can improve. Consider if you want to give feedback that’s successful and helps someone or if you want to give feedback that will hurt them. Consider the person and their wellbeing, and then consider how to best present the feedback. Sometimes being blatantly honest hinders a person more than encourages them. Consider their feelings when dealing with them and be sensitive – everyone has their own problems

– Don’t overload the person with criticism. Give a criticism, say a solution, say what you will be looking for going forward (give your expectation). Then start on the next criticism. If you hammer someone with your criticisms without stating a suggested solution to the problem (no matter how obvious) and what you are looking for going forward (expectation), then you’re bound to do more damage than good

– Sandwich your feedback. Give positive criticism, negative criticism, positive criticism… always ensure you leave on a positive. An old industry standard is to say two positives to every negative. And before you let anyone leave the room, ensure that the other person feels that the meeting went well and is satisfied. Give them an opportunity to offer you honest criticism

– Ensure your criticism is specific, useful and helpful. Avoid being rude, condescending or hurtful. If there is any part of what they are doing that is correct, then make sure you tell them.

At the end of the day, it’s simple – just make sure you offer the RIGHT criticism:

R – Respectful: If you don’t respect the person, they’ll pick up on it and it will be harder to take on board. Always expect the best, and that the person you’re offering criticism to was doing their best before providing harsh feedback. Ask if you can provide feedback before offering it to the person.

I – Issue-Specific: Stay on topic. Centre your feedback on the issue or performance that needs correcting, don’t bombard the person with criticism.

G – Goal-Focussed: Provide something practical and constructive to focus on by providing targets the person can work towards while trying to achieve their goals.

H – Helpful: Ensure you maintain a helpful tone and show your support when delivering feedback. If you often point out the good things people do and encourage them, they will be more receptive to your feedback.

T – Timely: If it’s positive feedback, give it to the person as close to the event as possible. If it is negative feedback, give it to the person once everyone has cooled down and at a time convenient to everyone. If it is something worthy of dismissal, give the person warning to enable them to prepare some notes.

When was the last time you provided someone with criticism? How did you present it? Was the message received in a positive way? Give examples of how things improved.

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