"You can't possibly win," Mike said as we competed against each other. In the next sentence, he told me why, and I knew he was right. I changed my tactics instantly, and suddenly Mike was on the defensive trying to remember what he had said.
More often than not, it pays to listen. Mike had given me a critique -- a commentary on my performance which offered neither criticism nor ideas for improvement. In this case, I didn't need advice on what to do instead. All I needed was to understand the folly of my original tactics. In some respects, the commentary we get fits into a rough scale.
· Criticism -- a comment with no attempt to be helpful. Sometimes the intent is to hurt.
· Constructive criticism -- offering something the speaker thinks may help.
· Critique -- a performance appraisal
· Feedback -- offering specific data about something so actions can be adjusted.
Toastmasters (http://www.toastmasters.org) use the term evaluation and try to give useful feedback. We see the results of nonverbal feedback every day. Feedback tells me how hard I should strike each key as I type. Feedback allows me to control a car and keep it on the road. Feedback is a necessary part of every functioning system.
Your life, and the lives of those around you, will be better off if you can avoid criticism in its negative sense, and offer and accept feedback in the positive sense. It is a skill we can develop like any other. Here's a quick plan for developing the ability to give and receive feedback.
Ask others to give you feedback. Open yourself up to the possibility of criticism. If you are lucky enough to get helpful feedback, great. If not, accept the data and let the criticism roll past you. As people see you benefit from their remarks, they will get more supportive with them and may ask for your thoughts.
Offer to provide feedback. Ask someone if they would like some feedback and provide it only when asked. Try to sense how much feedback they can handle. Often, a single point to grow on is most helpful. Occasionally, offering a complete list will be useful if there is time and need to get into detail. Beihg thorough cna be appropriate -- being viscious or petty never is.
Expand your circle of trust. Invite people to provide you feedback without requiring them to accept it from you. Look for more people and more situations where you can build the trust needed for an honest exchange of opinions.
Evaluate the feedback quakuty you get. Good intentions don't guarantee good ideas. Acccept the comments you've requested graciously, but decide for yourself what helps and what doesn't. If you find yourself disagreeing, look for a difference in perspective. Assume the other guy knows something you don't and try to find out what it is. If you can't, thank him and move on.
Evaluate the feedback quantity you get. If you get the same feedback from more than one person, it's probably time to pay attention. If one person calls yiou a horse -- laugh. If two people call you a horse -- suspect a consipiracy. If ten people call you a horse -- buy a saddle.