Critical thinking

**For most of us, criticism is just as hard to dish out as it is to receive. We quizzed Debra Fine on the gentle art of receiving a blow - and giving one. What key phrases should you use when giving criticism?**
State the facts: "I feel you never make the effort any more and there is a problem with …." along with a message of empathy for his reaction “This is probably not what you wanted to hear but I want our relationship to be improved, and I think it starts with …." Be direct, but don't be offensive."

Don’t make someone feel that he or she is “always” wrong. Don’t say: “You never remember to check with your boss regarding your weekly schedule.” Instead, say: “I’ve noticed that you’ve forgotten three times to check with Paula regarding your weekly schedule. Perhaps if you make a note to remind yourself each week, you will solve the problem.”

Instead of: “You screwed up the last home improvement project.” It’s more descriptive—and therefore more constructive—to say, “Your work on the kitchen left out an important piece.”

How do you advise handling a situation when the subject of criticism becomes upset?
If the person receiving your comments does begin to defend, defuse the situation as quickly as possible by offering encouragement. You might say, “Please don’t feel the need to defend yourself. Everyone has areas in relationships that other's believe need improvement and this is simply something that has been bothering me.”

What are the key things you think about before offering a critical opinion? Catherine the Great once said, “Praise loudly; blame softly.” The more positive feedback you are able to give initially, the smoother negative comments will go down. Focus on strategies for improvement rather than criticism. Do everything you can to avoid eliciting defensiveness. Focus on using "I" instead of "You". "I feel...", "I need..." instead of "You need to...." or "You should..."

How should someone best handle a critical opinion? When receiving feedback, remain quiet and listen carefully until the other person is finished. Then, you can ask questions to clarify their points. Be careful to avoid defending your position, even if you feel the criticism is unfounded. If you become defensive, you will gain a reputation as someone who can’t handle feedback. Thank people for their feedback, and if you can use it, let them know how you will use it.

The Fine Art of Confident Conversation by Debra Fine is published by Piatkus ($27.99).