By Justin Bariso, Principal, EQ Applied
Reprinted with Permission
“You know, you’re the type of manager the rest of us hate.”
I’ve never forgotten when someone told me that.
I was only 23, and I was working in a factory in downtown Brooklyn. We were making encyclopedias (remember those?), and our job was to quality check these huge hardcover books before sending them through a shrinkwrapping machine.
In sweltering heat. On the 12th floor, with no air conditioning.
This was no easy job.
And I wasn’t making it any easier.
I was young and stupid, and all I cared about were how many books we could get done in a day. So when a line worker made a mistake, I reamed him out. He snapped back.
I stood there, speechless. His words cut deep.
Contrast my actions with those of one of my first supervisors, Marc.
Marc was awesome—always focused on the positive and looking for things to commend.
But when I messed up, he had no problem letting me know.
The thing is, I always felt that Marc cared. He wanted our team to succeed, but he wanted me to succeed, too. In fact, Marc had such a deep impact on me, I still keep in touch with him—20 years after we stopped working together.
Marc taught me a major lesson:
My feedback was only critical. I needed to make it constructive.
In the last lesson, you learned how to be a diamond cutter: how to find the value in criticism, when other people give it to you.
However, most people haven’t learned that skill. Most will view critical feedback as a direct attack.
But as you know, everyone needs critical feedback. So…
How do you give feedback in a way that others view as helpful, instead of harmful?
Over the years, I got schooled by some amazing mentors like Marc. Along the way, I learned that you can completely transform the way you deliver feedback with one word:
Change critical, to constructive.
Here’s a four-step process to help you do it:
1. Praise regularly.
People won’t see you as someone who’s trying to help, until they know you see them as someone who’s trying at all.
So, pay attention to the good others are doing. Recognize their potential.
Then, say something.
When you give positive reinforcement, make sure you’re:
- Sincere (keep it real)
- Specific (tell them what you appreciate, and why)
- Not just using the “sandwich method,” i.e., giving praise when you have to give critical feedback, too (otherwise they’ll see right through it)
If you’re quick to point out the positive things others are doing, they’ll be more willing to listen when you point out areas for improvement.
2. When delivering critical constructive feedback, give the other person a chance to express themselves.
Give your communication partner a degree of control.
Ask them questions like:
- How do you feel about (how you did, this situation, etc.)?
- What are your challenges?
- How can I help?
By doing this, you learn more about how things look through the other person’s eyes…and how you can contribute to solving problems, instead of adding to them.
3. Acknowledge their feelings and empathize.
Before giving any tips for improvement, share a struggle you’ve had in the past, and how someone else’s feedback helped you improve.
Then, ask if you can share something that you think will help them, too.
4. Thank the other person for listening.
A simple thanks goes a long way. They might even surprise you and thank you back.
This isn’t a specific formula for every situation. Once you’ve established a certain level of trust, you can be more straightforward with your feedback…
But always focus on making it constructive.
Learning to give emotionally intelligent feedback completely changes how others see you. You’re not the clueless colleague, or the boss who just doesn’t get it. You’re not the spouse or parent who’s impossible to please.
Instead, you’re the one who cares. The one who’s got their backs. The one who wants to make them better.
To turn your feedback from critical to constructive:
1. Schedule a regular appointment in your calendar to write down things you appreciate about:
- your colleagues
- your direct reports
- your boss
- your family members
Then, schedule a time to tell them those things.
2. When offering critical constructive feedback, remember to:
- Give the person a chance to express themselves
- Acknowledge their feelings and empathize
- Thank them for listening
By transforming your feedback from critical into constructive, you’ll. . .
- Transform the way others see you and your feedback
- Build trust into your relationships
- Bring out the best in those around you
Use this handy worksheet to explore EQ Rule #4: Emotional Intelligence: Turn Critical into Constructive
About the Author
Justin Bariso, Principal, EQ Applied
The founder of EQ Applied, Justin Bariso helps organizations and individuals develop their emotional intelligence. His thoughts on leadership and EQ draw over a million readers a month, and LinkedIn named him a “Top Voice” in the field of management and workplace culture three years in a row. His book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, shares fascinating research, modern examples, and personal stories that illustrate how emotional intelligence works in the real world. Email: [email protected]
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