It’s not easy to communicate negative feedback in a helpful way. Many people err by going too far in one direction or another. Maybe you go “too soft,” tending to altogether avoid giving negative feedback. Your waiter brings you the wrong dish, but you decide to eat it anyway because you don’t want to cause problems. Then you suffer in silence, feeling conflicted about eating something you didn’t necessarily want. Or maybe you go “too hard,” kicking down the front door when a simple knock would have done the trick. The waiter brings you the wrong dish and you give him/her a stern lecture about customer service, etc. Maybe you end up with the correct dish, but how much fun is your meal at this point?
When it comes to constructive criticism, the key is to be constructive. This means resolving the situation in the least offensive, least distracting way, to all involved. It requires being clear and direct, but without coming off like a scolding parent. Here are four tips for striking this delicate balance:
Focus on Specific Behaviors
It’s usually not very productive to emphasize character flaws or problematic personality traits. If your partner leaves wet towels on the floor, focus on that concrete behavior. Don’t accuse him of being lazy or disorganized. Don’t generalize. Don’t use this discussion as a way in to list all your partner’s various shortcomings.
Bosses often say to their employees, Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions. Suggest your partner leave himself a note on the bathroom mirror reminding him to pick up his towels. Or purchase a second laundry hamper for his bathroom. Try to stay practical, operational. Don’t let your emotions hijack the conversation. If it starts to turn into an argument, calmly suggest you both sleep on it and revisit it later.
Use the “Sandwich” Technique
This is a simple method for softening the delivery of your challenging feedback. You “sandwich” it between two genuine complimentary statements. For your wet towel partner, try saying something like this: I really appreciate how hard you’ve been working taking care of the lawn lately. I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, but could you work on picking up your wet towels? You’ve been doing a great job helping with the other laundry lately, and that makes my life a lot easier.