Constructive Criticism

Posted by Sarah Sloane on Dec 19, 2007 in communication, Reviews

Last night, I spent a lovely couple of hours presenting for Black Rose’s Tuesday night educational meeting.  We talked about how to better accept service; this was the first time that I had presented this particular class, and so I asked for feedback.  Beyond the usual “great presentation” kind of comments, I got a few comments from people who were up front about parts of the class that they felt could have been done in a way that would have made the class flow better, or would have enhanced the way that the topic was received by the audience.  Some of those comments were very valuable; one or two were much more “blunt”.  It brought me back to something that we discussed in the class – how to give criticism or correct someone in a way that leaves them feeling valued, and hopefully wanting to improve.

It’s often called “bookending”.  Think of the criticism as a book; it doesn’t stand up as well on the shelf by itself, but if you place two supporting bookends next to it (in this case, positive reinforcement), it remains stable because it can lean on them.

When we deliver criticism, often the urge is to just say it & get it over with as quickly as possible, or to apologize for having to give it in the first place.  Both of those techniques diminish from the words we speak; the first doesn’t give context to the recipient of the criticism, and makes it very easy for them to dismiss the entire statement OR to take it very personally and allow it to affect their emotions or self esteem.  The second makes it seem that we don’t really believe that the criticism is justified; in trying to take the sting out of it, we minimize it to the point where they don’t even consider it as valid.

When we ‘bookend’ criticism, we use a very simple formula – a valid, positive comment/pat-on-the-back, followed by the criticism, and then a second (and different, if possible) positive comment.  It looks a little like this:

“You did a great job overall with washing the dishes last night; they were all beautifully clean and that makes me happy.  The one issue I did find was that you didn’t empty the dishwasher once it was done, and that means that we’ll have to stack dirty dishes in the sink until it gets emptied out, which leaves the kitchen looking messy.  Other than that, it was a huge help to me to have you get them washed and to know that I didn’t have to try to handle that after dinner made my evening so much more relaxing!”

That sounds a lot better than “Hey, you didn’t empty the dishwasher last night”, right?

So many of the challenges we encounter in our relationships, particularly in service-based relationships, revolve around communicating our needs and wants in clear and concise ways.  Often, being mindful simply of the way that we deliver correction & criticism can make a huge difference for us in how smoothly we get what we want.

As for me?  I’m listening to all of those comments & criticisms from last night, but some of them (the ones where there was also a positive comment or two) are sticking in my head a little better than others.

I hope you all have a wonderful rest of December, and enjoy yourselves!


December … the year is almost over.

Posted by Sarah Sloane on Dec 3, 2007 in Reviews

December is dawning here in DC with all the flair of a windy March day and all the bite of a brisk evening in Juneau. Walking outside today, wrapped in my MC jacket with my scarf flying around my shoulders in the wind, I thought about how grateful I am to have gotten through the past few months. It seems that many of my friends (as well as I) have been experiencing lots of change in our lives, most notably in our intimate relationships and friendships. At Black Roses’ BRXX event this past weekend, I was led to many interactions with people where discussions centered around finding out what is important and necessary and non-negotiable in our lives, and how we might honor ourselves and our partners by talking about our needs and our wants openly and honestly. This seems like a good theme for December – we’re “closing out” the year on many levels, and it is in general a good time to think about how we’d like our lives to change in the coming year. I encourage you to take advantage of this time of transition and think about what you want your 2008 to look like, and start laying the foundations for making it a year of joy and growth for you!


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