Monthly Archives: November 2014

Deb Bright on Giving and Receiving Criticism Effectively: Part 2

Photo of Deb Bright, author of The Truth Doesn't Have to HurtThe following is Part Two of a guest post from Deb Bright, author of The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance and Promote Change, sharing key things to remember when giving criticism, or being on the receiving end.

Read Part One

What’s the most important thing for people to keep in mind when on the receiving end of criticism?

It is imperative to understand that in the criticism exchange the control always rests with the receiver. You read that right! It is always the receiver who is in control of a criticism once it is given. How to best utilize that control is the challenge.

So for starters, receivers need to be good listeners. They need to listen for good quality information versus poor quality information. They need to view criticism as information that could be of great importance to helping them handle a situation better or improve their personal effectiveness. When viewing criticism as information, it’s important for receivers to practice their ability to de-emotionalize their reactions to criticisms that come their way and get past how the criticism is being delivered and the word choices that are being used. The focus needs to be on what generally is being said. They need to ask “What is this giver trying to tell me?” Because so few are schooled on delivering criticism, chances are great that the giver is going to be awkward and ineffective in their delivery. So, what receivers need to remember is to use the control that they have by asking questions to make sure they understand the criticism itself. From there, most importantly, it’s knowing from the giver’s perspective what is being asked of them to do better. That is key!

If receivers don’t know what’s being asked of them or what they are doing wrong and they guess incorrectly, what happens over time is that receivers become discouraged and eventually say to themselves, “It seems that I can never satisfy my boss, co-worker, or customer.” So, receivers need to be effective at knowing what action they need to take from the giver’s perspective. When they do that, they can better determine if they buy into what’s being asked of them. Then they are positioned to best direct their energies in productive ways to remedy the situation. That’s making the control that’s theirs work for them.

Why is it important for receivers to make the giver feel comfortable?

Receivers need to make givers feel comfortable because people giving criticism don’t enjoy giving it any more than receivers enjoy getting it. So, by the receiver making the giver feel comfortable, it helps to bring out the best in the giver and that translates to a more productive conversation.

But there’s more. If receivers immediately become defensive and argumentative, bosses with their long to-do lists will most likely be inclined to put this conversation on the bottom of their to do list. After all, the boss may be silently thinking, “Who needs the hassle?” Now the receiver puts in jeopardy potentially valuable information that could help them reach the outcomes they desire.

If you were to ask me what “making the giver feel comfortable” means, I’d probably say two things off the top of my head. First, making sure that the receiver does not interrupt immediately – let the giver finish what they have to say. Secondly, the receiver really needs to listen carefully to what the giver is saying or trying to say. Most givers have not been educated in giving criticism and can easily come across as awkward in their ability to give criticism. This is important for receivers to be aware of. Rather than immediately taking a defensive stance, receivers need to ask questions with the intent of trying to understand where the giver is coming from and where there is potential value in what the giver is trying to say.

What are some things we should look for in deciding whether to accept or reject criticism?

When it comes to accepting or rejecting criticism as a receiver, one of the first things you as a receiver should look for are specific examples and facts. Are the facts accurate and do the examples support the criticism? But, it isn’t always the case that facts or examples get coupled with a criticism. And to ask for them can sometimes confuse the main focus of what is being said. For example, let’s say that you and your boss are in a casual conversation about the quality of education today in schools. Somehow, the boss gets around to telling you how you need to improve your writing skills. He mentions that he has noticed that sometimes your sentences are too long, or they are fragmented, or that you are using pronouns incorrectly. As the receiver, you naturally might want to ask for examples, but the boss cannot provide any at the moment. Rather than reject the criticism because your boss doesn’t have any facts handy, you may want to step back and zoom out to the macro or bigger picture and ask yourself whether what your boss is saying makes sense and may be something worth taking a look at by going through correspondence you have shared with him in the past.

Here are a couple signals that tell you that you really want to pay attention to whether the giver really does have your best interest in mind and is trying to be helpful. If the giver is criticizing you right before you’re getting ready to make a presentation or go into a big meeting with your customer, or if they compare you to a known enemy, or if they exaggerate the criticism so that it is way out of proportion to the “crime” – red flags should cause you to question their motive. While these could be signs that the giver does not have your best interest in mind, remember that is not always the case. More likely than not, we deal with givers who are unskilled at giving criticism. Sometimes the criticism is not meant to be hurtful or unhelpful, it’s just a matter of the giver being poorly trained in the delivery.

Jacket image, The Truth Doesn't Have to Hurt, by Deb BrightWhenever you are unsure of a giver’s true intent, it never hurts to go back to givers to explore more precisely what they meant. By exploring the matter in greater detail, givers have another chance to demonstrate their motive…be it helpful or hurtful!


Deb Bright, Ph.D. is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her impressive roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations.

Deb Bright on Giving and Receiving Criticism Effectively: Part 1

Photo of Deb Bright, author of The Truth Doesn't Have to HurtThe following is Part One of a guest post from Deb Bright, author of The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance and Promote Change, sharing key things to remember when giving criticism, or being on the receiving end.

Why do people need to know anything about the criticism exchange? I always regarded it as something awful that should be avoided at all costs!

You are not alone. Just about everyone hates criticism and views it as the least sought after form of human communication. But, the fact is that the more you learn about how to give and take criticism, the more you will discover that it can open doors to successes you never dreamed were possible. Understanding criticism, whether as a giver or receiver, can become a significant asset toward your personal success as a manager or an employee in just about any field or organization. Once you learn how to give it so that others actually welcome it or how to accept it as a form of self-advancement, you will know more than just about anyone you come in contact with.

Criticism, no matter how well it is given or taken, has, at its core, a gem of honesty that can shape our most accurate perception of ourselves and others more than any other source of information we can have at our disposal. It is a learning tool through which we can change the behavior of others and ourselves. Not to take anything away from the advantages of praise, which is a great way to get people to continue doing what they might be doing right, criticism, when delivered properly, can actually increase trust, respect, and the quality of our fundamental relationships with everyone with whom we deal. Criticism, when delivered well, can make change for the good happen not just between individuals but across organizations big and small.

The key thing about criticism is that it is mostly always taken seriously by us and others.

Why? Because we all know that criticism is hard to give, while praise is not always taken seriously since it is easy to give – but rarely results in change. If we want to know if someone really doesn’t like us, wait for them to criticize. Chances are their criticism will be simply meant to hurt us – and that’s called “bashing”. On the other hand, we usually recognize criticism that is really meant to help us such as the golf pro trying to fix our swing, or the music teacher who winces when we hit the wrong key. Those that use criticism to help are the ones we need to pay attention to. We can simply dismiss criticism from those who simply mean to demean. We trust and respect people whose intention it is to help us … those are the ones we learn from and whose words we cherish the most. Even when they criticize us, we know their intention is meant to be helpful and, more likely than not, we accept what they say. Learning how to discern quality criticism from any other kind is not hard. It is just a matter of recognizing what is meant to be helpful rather than hurtful. Once we know that, we are on our way to growing into our ambitions and helping others do the same.

What are some important things to remember about giving criticism?

If you think about it, criticism is inevitable in just about any relationship, especially those between bosses and their staffs, or between team members. After all, human beings aren’t perfect. So, why guess how best to approach one another? We need to find out how best to deliver a message so the person doesn’t take it the wrong way. Ask those that you engage with how, when it becomes necessary, they prefer to be given criticism as long as it is meant to be helpful. They will tell you! Some like it up front. Some like it soft. Some like it at the end of the day. While others will say “give it to me on the spot”. It is a great way to establish an expectation of honesty and trust and most people will appreciate your sensitivity to the issue as it regards them.

This follows along with another all too common mistake where givers adopt what’s often referred to in the workplace as the “sandwich approach” or the “Oreo cookie approach.” This is the oft-used technique where the giver of criticism first delivers a positive then delivers the negative followed by delivering another positive. Few are fooled by this. What we found in our research is that when you start positive, move negative, and end positive, what often happens is that the receiver doesn’t hear the criticism because they’re sitting there glorifying in the positive. After using this approach a few times with the same receiver, the receiver becomes savvy to the approach and distrusts the praise message well knowing that the magical axe of the “but” will fall with the more honest negative to follow. What really concerns me about using this technique without thinking about it is that what we’re saying is that human Jacket image, The Truth Doesn't Have to Hurt, by Deb Brightbeings are like robots and all you need to do is start positive, move negative, and end positive.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2, with advice on receiving criticism, including whether to accept or reject it.

Deb Bright, Ph.D. is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her impressive roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations.

Random Quotes from New Books This November

Jacket image, Amp Up Your Sales by Andy PaulAmp Up Your Sales: Powerful Strategies That Move Customers to Make Fast, Favorable Decisions by Andy Paul

“What happens when you sell to a prospect? What happens as your prospect moves through the decision-making process? What happens when the prospect learns that your product provides a feature and an associated value that she hadn’t anticipated when she first put her requirements together? Or what happens when your prospect’s expectations for the new machine tool she’s looking to acquire aren’t fully met by any of the products she has evaluated? The trajectory of the buying process will change, and the information required to make a decision will also change. This necessarily forces immediate strategy adjustments on the part of the seller.” (page 45)

Jacket image, Behind Every Good Decision by Piyanka Jain and Puneet SharmaBehind Every Good Decision: How Anyone Can Use Business Analytics to Turn Data into Profitable Insight by Piyanka Jain and Puneet Sharma

As it turns out, predictive analytics was playing a bigger role in the department than just anticipating crime hotspots, With 20 percent staff reduction and a 30 percent increase in service calls, the department had to allocate resources more efficiently, Department leaders recognized that they had a significant amount of high-quality ways to use that data—questions that could be answered with analytics. These included: ‘How can we reduce response time?’, ‘How many people are needed per shift?”, “What times of days should the shifts be? (a big win for predictive analytics)’, ‘How can our limited resources be allocated efficiently?’ and ‘How can we allocate the time of the officers when not on call (the time Lt. Foster usually spent filling out paperwork.)?” (page 103)

Jacket image, Parenting with a Story by Paul SmithParenting with a Story: Real-Life Lessons in Parenting for Parents and Children to Share by Paul Smith

“The difficulty of being brave, of course, is that you have to constantly reaffirm that bravery. Otherwise, at every opportunity you risk making a different choice. So is there a way to put yourself in a position to have a better chance of staying the course? Fortunately, there is. When Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez landed in Mexico in 1519, he famously burned his ships. With no way home, his men were more motivated to accomplish their goal, which was to conquer and colonize the interior of Mexico. Cortez knew that with such a dangerous mission, his odds of success were much greater with the complete commitment that comes from knowing that neither failure nor retreat was a viable option. There’s a lesson in Cortez’s wisdom even for smaller and less gruesome objectives. I put that wisdom to the test myself as a sixteen-year-old high school junior. The result was one of the proudest moments of my young life up to that point. Here’s how.” (page 49)

Jacket image, Targeted by Mike SmithTargeted: How Technology is Revolutionizing Advertising and the Way Companies Reach Consumers by Mike Smith

“Real-time bidding also can give publishers a persuasive selling point for their media brand that competing search advertising cannot. For example, let’s say an ad appearing on Esquire’s website is a strong influencer, but right before making a purchase decision, the user does a Google search. Customarily, almost all of the credit for the sale is given to Google. Such presumptions ignore all the brand advertising and awareness creation that preceded the late-in-the-game Google search. ‘Giving Google credit for trillions of dollars in sales is like giving the checkout person in the supermarket credit for the sales of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes’ says Josh Shatkin-Margolis, formerly CEO of Magnetic, a retargeting company (now CEO of Purple Cloud, a retail communications company). Using RTB enables publishers to offer impressions when they would be advantageous for site retargeting, which contributes to advertisers knowing how the site influenced the eventual sale.” (page 107)


Jacket image, Teenagers 101 by Rebecca DeurleinTeenagers 101: What a Top Teacher Wishes You Knew About Helping Your Kid Succeed by Rebecca Deurlein, Ed.D.

“We often don’t realize what we haven’t taught our children until they are heading off for college. Then it hits us: I never had her do her own laundry so she would know what to do when she gets to college. And did I ever teach him how to fill out a check or balance a checkbook? Does she know the difference between a debit card and a credit card? Thankfully, these lessons are fairly easily taught on short notice. A brief demonstration or explanation usually suffices. However, teaching responsibility and problem solving is a gradual, lifelong process. At the very least, it must be implemented during the high school years in preparation for college and the real world. If it isn’t taught during the high school years, when will it be? I certainly understand parents’ hesitation to let their children take a fall. You see high school as eminently important to your children’s future and it is, but you have to keep your eyes on the big picture.” (page 65)

Jacket image, The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership by M.A. Soupios and Panos MourdoukoutasThe Ten Golden Rules of Leadership: Classical Wisdom for Modern Leaders by M.A. Soupios and Panos Mourdoukoutas

“All who would hope to attain the status of genuine leader are well advised to consider the counsel presented by Aristophanes. Any managers lacking the essential skill of knowing when to avoid some endeavor or when to disengage from a project devoid of prospect are a detriment to the organization as well as to themselves. It is important to be clear about what the term ‘skill’ implies in this context. It is certainly not a reference to the techniques acquired from a book or from some training seminar. Rather the ability in question is ultimately a reflection of the ego state and character of the leader. Simply put, real leaders have the confidence and courage to acknowledge their own limitations. They are secure enough in their own being to accept the reality that on occasion, even they are incapable of dispensing miracles. In addition, these men and women are prepared to formally acknowledge their role in enterprises that fail to bear fruit.” (page 51)


Jacket image, Think Agile by Taffy WilliamsThink Agile: How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt to Succeed by Taffy Williams

If entrepreneurs are constantly being surprised by events and situations,  and  no  one  can  predict  many  of  the  trends  that  come sweeping  through  the  economy,  the  culture,  and  various  industries, how, then, can you create a Plan B when there’s no way of knowing what or when something will impact your business? While it’s true that you can’t anticipate many trends and events specifically, you can plan for them generally. You may not be able to predict a new technology introduced in the Far East that will revo-lutionize your industry, but you can create an alternative plan with steps for researching, incorporating, and adapting that future technology—or any other technology—into your business. (page 81)

Want to sample other AMACOM books? Check out our Random Quotes from New Books series.