Friday, March 23, 2007

How to offer constructive criticism

Part of being a mentor involves learning how to give creative and constructive criticism.

That was difficult for me - I remember as a child bursting into tears when someone tried to correct me or offer criticism, no matter how lovingly it was given. Somehow in my mind the criticism meant I was inadequate, wanting, not good enough - even though in reality it was intended to help me be better at the things I was attempting to do.

God has to have a sense of humor - one of the things I had the most trouble with while growing up became the core of my college degree program (adult learning and mentoring). He helped me mature and realize that criticism, when offered in the right way and in the right spirit, may hurt, but it helps me to grow.

My hypersensitive childhood helps me to be more aware of how others may feel about criticism or critiquing as well. Here are some helpful things I've learned about giving criticism.

1. Always begin by commenting on something good about the person or their work. This will break down the protective, defensive walls they may have and help the constructive comments to be received rather than rejected.

As a matter of fact, try to balance criticism with praise - that way, you're building them up at the same time as you offer suggestions for change, rather than just bombarding them with negatives which can be overwhelming. A spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down better.

2. Don't tell a person what they "should or ought to" do. Tell or show them how to do it with examples. Telling them to change just creates more feelings of inadequacy if they don't really know how to accomplish the suggestions.

Whenever possible, offer resources and use scripture or real life examples. Depending on the situation (especially in counseling), you may want to avoid using too many personal examples which could lead a person to measure themselves against you, their mentor.

3. Always couch suggestions in "I" terms - such as: "I'm having difficulty understanding what you mean here..." It helps keep lines of communication open and doesn't sound as accusing as "What are you trying to say?"

4. Always smile when offering suggestions or criticism - it seems less adversarial. Exercise good listening skills - keep an open posture (don't cross your arms or legs), lean slightly forward slightly and look directly at the person to let them know you are hearing what they say.

5. Lastly, but most importantly, Pray! Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit about giving criticism. Be sure it is invited. Be sure it is constructive and given in the right attitude (not just because the other person's behaviors provoke discomfort in you!)

The same iron that sharpens another piece of iron can also be used as a weapon to beat up another person, so be sure any criticism you give is "laced with grace" and the Love of the Father.

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