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Recently, articles on “constructive criticism” and “providing positive feedback” made the rounds on my Twitter timeline. For example:

http://blogs.hbr.org/schwartz/2011/11/theres-no-such-thing-as-constr.html

Call it feedback, input, direction, observation, evaluation, criticism, council, guidance, oversight and/or instruction, it is a necessary fact of life.  We all need it, benefit from it.  It helps us grown, learn, and, hopefully, mature, into considerate, productive, highly functioning, responsible adults.

Even the legendary “boy raised by wolves”  would have received his share, and since a good portion was probably non-verbal, chances are it was more painful than a good dressing down from the boss.

Sure there are good ways to deliver the message, effective ways, and some means that are both, but sometimes it just isn’t delivered well. Thing is, humanity cannot progress without it.  It’s part of how we learn.  And how it is received depends as much on the maturity of the donor as of the recipient and their mutual awareness of same.

So if I’ve made a mistake or misunderstood, erred or misinterpreted, tell me.

Here’s my one golden rule:

Don’t tell me what I can’t do!

I firmly believe that everyone has a right to an opinion and should be given the opportunity to express it.  Yes, I understand that you’re opinion might even be the collective assessment of Management and you are speaking on their behalf.  Yes, as I have said, I hold that it is necessary to convey the opportunity for improvement, to course-correct, to communicate that, for whatever reason, you cannot approve my plan or proposal.  But don’t unequivocally inform me that I ”can’t do” something and move on.

Telling me that I cannot do something is tantamount to waving a red flag in front of a bull.  It is a big red stop sign the size of an 18-wheeler that I run into – going full speed.  The reaction is instinctive, visceral, it’s not about reason or rationale.   As a result, I am unable to hear anything else you say.  My “fight or flight” response has been stimulated.  Not a good situation for discussion or negotiation.

The alternative:

– Inform me of the constraints.

– Show me how I’ve misread the situation.

– Help me understand the pitfalls.

– Guide me to the opportunities.

– Open my eyes to the ”error of my ways” in my thought process.

– Point out the weakness in my plan or suggestion.

Life is not fair.  I don’t always expect to be right or have my proposal approved, especially when the resources are not exclusively my own and there are other stakeholders involved.  Not all of my ideas are brilliant, not all my initiatives viable or appropriate.

Discussing what might be possible, allowed, feasible is an opportunity to be creative, resourceful, to refocus and re-engage. It is a dialogue that helps me learn and progress.

Challenges are learning opportunities, but unless your opposition is considered, well-reasoned and plausible, then I’ll perceived you as just throwing up gratuitous roadblocks.  Which completely lets the air out of all four tires…

Oh, and if you’re trying to use reverse psychology on me…  chances are I’ll see right through that.  I’m not six anymore and I’m on to you.

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