How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Two Secrets to Being Perceived As Helpful Rather Than Critical
Guest articles > Two Secrets to Being Perceived As Helpful Rather Than Critical
by: Lisa Earle McLeod
Have you ever experienced any of these scenarios?
You have an idea or project you’re excited about. You work on it. You share it with someone you care about, whereupon your friend (colleague, boss, spouse, or parent) takes one look at the report (essay, business plan or draperies) and begins pointing out everything that’s wrong with it.
Or perhaps you’ve been the one to offer a critique too quickly. Someone tells you about a project they’re excited about. You offer some “helpful” suggestions to make it even better. But after the words leave your mouth, you notice their effect. The person who was once excited is now deflated by your critique.
Or maybe you’re one of those clueless, the people who think they're helpful, but who are really just critical. If that’s you, I can tell you right now, over time people learn to brace themselves before they share anything with you, and eventually they stop sharing at all.
When you offer suggestions in the wrong way, people won't perceive you as helpful. They’ll just perceive you as critical.
Here’s the problem with criticism: It doesn't matter if it’s true; it still has a detrimental effect on people. It lessens their enthusiasm, it erodes their trust and it weakens your relationship.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t offer suggestions. If someone shares something with you that “needs work” your suggestions can be appreciated if you know how to serve them up.
Here are two secrets to keep you in the helpful zone without crossing over into criticism.
1. Don’t add too much “value”
I learned this lesson from my great colleague and mentor Marshall Goldsmith. Goldsmith, who coaches CEO’s and was recently named #1 Leadership Thinker in the World by Thinkers50 – Harvard Business Review, describes a scenario where an employee comes in excited about a new project. Their manager loves the idea and proceeds to provide suggestions for making it better. “Congratulations,” said Goldsmith, the idea is 20% better, but the employees’ ownership of it just went down by 50%.”
It’s better for someone to be enthusiastic about their own good idea, than to
be less enthusiastic about implementing the perfect idea you helped make great.
2. Praise first, offer help second.
Sometimes help is appropriate, but if the first words out of your mouth are
negative, they will assume that’s your overall assessment. If you like what
they’ve done, start with the positive. My daughter recently reorganized her
room. When she called me in to show off the results, the first thing I noticed
were the magazine photos taped to the wall. But instead of blurting out, “Don't
tape stuff to the wall, it will take the paint off,” I notice her proud face
eagerly looking for approval so I praised the fabulous parts first. I noticed
the beautiful makeshift drape forged from netting. I admired the images of the
photos taped to the wall. Then after we had both reveled in her results, I said,
“I love these photos, would you like some poster gum so they don't take the
paint off when you want to rearrange them?” Same recommended action, take down
the tape, different emotional result. Instead of a critique, it’s a helpful
suggestion. I’m hardly perfect, but after hundreds of times doing it wrong, I’ve
learned that how much the positioning and the order matter.
Lisa Earle McLeod helps organizations win the hearts and minds of customers and employees. She is the author of three books included the best-seller, The Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Resolving Conflicts Large and Small, A Washington Post Top 5 Book for Leaders.