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What is it that you want to accomplish with your criticism? Is your goal to help someone grow, recover, improve, prosper, or excel? If you are not clear about how your criticism will help the recipient, perhaps you should delay saying anything until you have identified the benefit for the recipient. Additionally, you must be aware of your motivation for providing criticism. Even if the criticism could be helpful, it should likely not be offered when the reason is less than honorable. Suppose the underlying motivation is to put another “in their place” or engage in an ego assault. In that case, allowing unproductive feelings to subside is best before offering your comments.

In one study, people reported that “punishment” was one of the critical motivations for offering criticism to another. The problem with punishment is that it only communicates that someone did something wrong (at least from the critic’s perspective). Typical approaches to discipline fall far short of the ideal criticism communication. Punishment does not offer ideas on how another can improve; it typically is dispensed with a focus only on the consequence of past actions. It focuses on the rearview mirror rather than the windshield.

Additionally, to more effectively offer productive and constructive criticism, we need to ensure we have all of the relevant information based on fact, not conjecture. Facts involve what was actually observed—what you saw or heard. It focuses on the “what,” not the “why.” The “why” is more about your conclusions—often premature conclusions.

When assessing facts, it is also essential to consider your contributions or other possible factors involved in the issue. For example, if practices or policies have contributed to the circumstance, it would be hypocritical not to acknowledge it. Contributions could include organizational practices, past decisions, situational factors, peer pressure, different world views (such as generational differences), or other circumstances.

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