Once you’ve gotten over your shyness, there remains the question of how best to frame constructive criticism. Some of the things you’ve heard may not actually be helpful, like the often-recommended “sandwich” method of sandwiching criticism between two layers of praise. This approach “is not supported by evidence, and research suggests it may actually have a detrimental effect by diluting or clouding the really important advice,” said Naomi Winstone, a cognitive psychologist who studies constructive feedback at the University of Surrey in Britain. .
Giving too much feedback is another common mistake, which is funny considering we often make the opposite mistake. “Providing feedback on absolutely every element of performance can be overwhelming,” said Dr. Winstone. “Instead, focusing on key priorities for improvement, with clear guidance on how to take next steps, can be the most motivating.”
Research by economist Katherine L. Milkman and others suggests that we are more likely to change our own behavior when we are specific about the goals we set for ourselves, and the same may be true when we set goals for others, said Catherine Sanderson, a psychologist at Amherst College.
“A coach who says ‘try harder’ to an underperforming athlete could be less effective than a coach who says, ‘You need to build more strength, so starting tomorrow you should spend 30 minutes every day lifting weights,'” he said. Dr Sanderson. .
Try to time your comments for when people are also calm and receptive. “Avoid giving feedback when you or the recipient is feeling stressed or emotionally charged,” Dr. Simon suggested. Make it clear that you are commenting on a person’s behavior rather than their character, Dr. Sanderson added. “Don’t make it personal,” he said. “It’s important to separate what the person said or did from who they are.”
What if you want constructive criticism, but no one offers it? Research by Hayley Blunden, an organizational behavior doctoral student at Harvard Business School, suggests that asking people for advice, rather than feedback, often leads to more useful and actionable insights. That’s because the advice is future-oriented, which “can open people’s thinking,” she said, and make them focus on what could be, rather than what happened in the past. Also, giving future-oriented advice feels less judgmental than giving feedback on past choices, which could help more empathetic people “let down their guard and share more specific information,” she added.
The next time I feel nervous about giving feedback to my assistant, partner, or friends, here’s what I’ll do: I’ll try to imagine what I’d want if I were in their situation, and consider the benefits my feedback could provide in terms of personal or professional growth. I will then share my thoughts, which I will take as advice, briefly and specifically when they seem receptive. And I hope that in the future they will do the same for me.