Here is something you have received from others many times over the span of your life:

  • Can I give you some constructive criticism?
  • May I offer some constructive criticism?
  • I have some constructive criticism if you would like to hear it.
  • How would you like to hear some constructive feedback about what you just did?

More than half the time if someone says that you, it is likely you will brace yourself for some criticism that feels like anything but “constructive.”

Most of the time you are likely to allow the remarks and your thoughts are, “How do I listen to this, try to avoid being defensive, and appear to be interested in the beating I am about to endure?”

If you think about CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM, it certainly feels more like CRITICISM than anything even remotely CONSTRUCTIVE.

When you are an adult in any personal or professional relationship, you will notice that there are three ways in which you find out how you are doing with others:

  1. CRITICISM
  2. SILENCE
  3. REINFORCEMENT

What is rather curious is that MOST EVERYONE personally or professionally becomes an expert at two of the three… CRITICISM and SILENCE (which is criticism with the volume turned down).  We generally spend more time criticizing others or avoid saying anything at all.

Paradoxically, most of us generally believe the following axiom:  If we reinforce the behavior we like or admire in another person, we are likely to get more of that behavior from them.”

Despite the fact that most of us believe that axiom, we generally practice ongoing reinforcement with only two populations:

  1. Small children
  2. Dogs

As a result, as grown-ups we generally receive a lot more criticism than reinforcement and we have become quite sensitive (and defensive) to criticism because we generally get it a lot without a corresponding amount of reinforcement to balance it out.

So when you have an impulse to help someone with some CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM, you are under the illusion that people are keen to get some MORE criticism, regardless of how constructive it is.

Therefore, if you are keen to offer unsolicited advice to someone, even if your intention is to be helpful, I recommend that you package your remarks in any of the following ways:

  • I have some suggestions for your consideration.  What are your thoughts about hearing them?
  • For your consideration, I have some ideas you may want to hear that will likely help you be more effective here.  What is your appetite to hear them?
  • I have some options for you to improve what you did.  Are you interested in hearing them?
  • When you are ready to hear some recommendations to improve your program, let me know.  I am happy to share them.

Replacing the words, CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM, with any of the above will likely get others to actually listen and consider your suggestions, with a lot less defensiveness.

Remember, it’s common sense, and COMMON SENSE IS VERY UNCOMMON!

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