Thursday, February 21, 2008

More on Criticism

More thoughts on criticism have struck me since I blogged about sermon feedback. I think I have mentioned before that I love feedback, positive or negative, but I have, over the years, come to the conclusion that I am odd in this respect. I still don't quite know why everyone doesn't embrace the idea of learning by being given information about how they were received, but that's down to personality type I guess.

It does mean that I tend to offer feedback to others pretty gently and so sometimes it is not heard as a criticism when it should be. End result; no change in behaviour. Nevertheless it is still the case that even the most gentle of criticism can be misheard. The other day I made this suggestion to someone:

I think we would do well to avoid the emotive and confrontational language of 'protect our interests' and exchange it for the welcoming and co-operative language of 'how can we best work together.'

Which got the response:

'A little patronising, Steve, but not intended, I'm sure.'

I've had trouble like this before. A colleague at a previous organisation told me she thought I was wrong, very clearly. Quite polarising that so I responded the only way I could with a counter assertion that on this occasion I felt she was mistaken. She stormed out. Later, when it transpired that I had been right (I rarely assert, ‘I am right’ unless I am pretty damn sure) and she was wrong, the criticism, 'It was the way you said it,' was thrown at me. I'm not sure how to say, 'You were wrong,' nicely. Surely it was the fact that I said it and it was right that was galling?

One of my heroes, Julian Richer, the founder of Richer Sounds, wrote an influential little book (for me) called The Richer Way. In it he made the point that 10% of people with a complaint bother to write, but 100% of people with a complaint tell a friend. 1% of people receiving good service bother to write and 10% of such people tell a friend. The statistics are too general to be hard facts but they ring true. Richer's response was to handle all written customer complaints personally and I believe he still does so. He wanted to know how his business was doing.

Note that one complaint will undo the work of at least 10 good pieces of service. Yet another reason for eliminating the bad from your organistaion before you strive to be excellent.

Richer set up a wonderful system for getting feedback on his staff at the point of sale. The name of the assistant goes on the receipt so he can feedback to his staff when there is a complaint or praise. The employee of the month (as objectively judged by customers) gets to have use of the company limo for a weekend with a driver.

So whilst it may bring back all your experiences of having a critical parent who never praised you, do try hard to grin and receive negative feedback without becoming all defensive. They probably represent nine other people who didn't bother to say. If you tell the other person their critique is wrong how likely are they to ever tell you again?

And if you get good feedback? Well 99 other people probably agree. How encouraging is that?

1 comment:

david said...

I guess we all like praise but find the criticism harder to take. The (American owned) company I work for has recently instituted a system where there must be a review at the end of every meeting - and it is called "Plus / Delta". "Plus" is where we decide the good points of the meeting, and "Delta" the things we should change. In this way, there is no "negative" feedback (well, there is, but it is not called negative!). I suppose this is a bit corny, but it does seem to work.