How To Deliver Criticism Without Breaking Anyone’s Heart — Or Your Own
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Criticism. Even just looking at the word makes me feel timid and small. 

Whatever you choose to call it — criticism, judgment, constructive feedback, or something sweeter and gentler, like personal observation — there’s no denying that life is FULL of it.

Of course, most of us would rather dance buck-naked across blazing hot coals than receive a piece of potentially-ego-piercing criticism. In fact, there’s only one thing we hate more than hearing it.

And that’s giving it.

But delivering criticism doesn’t have to be agonizing. With a little bit of preparation, speaking the uncomfortable truth can become an opportunity to move, touch, validate and even inspire another human being.

All you have to do is remember three simple words:

FEEL. KNOW. DO.

Got ‘em emblazoned in your mind?

Now: ask yourself three simple questions:

1. How do I want the person I’m criticizing to FEEL?

Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

If you want the person you’re criticizing to feel REALLY BAD, TERRIBLE AND REJECTED, you might want to examine your own motivations before you speak or blast off that email. 

If you want the person you’re criticizing to feel LOVED AND INSPIRED TO DO BETTER, you’re in a good place to begin.

You can open with a statement like: “I want you to understand that I deeply appreciate you, and what I’m about to say isn’t a criticism of your character.”

2. What do I want the person I’m criticizing to KNOW?

Get crystal-clear on the information you want to convey, before you pick up the phone or fire off a haphazard text message.

Do you want them to know your expectations, to prevent missteps in the future?

Do you want them to master a new skill, in order to do their job better and faster?

Do you want them to know how important this project is to you, and how you’re counting on them to step up and deliver?

Try using a statement like: “I want you to know that __________ is really important to me, and I’m counting on you to __________.”

3. What do I want the person I’m criticizing to DO?

Chances are, there’s a particular type of behavior you’d love to see in the future.

So ... what is it?

Create a clear call-to-action that they can respond to, beginning with something like:

“In the future, I’d love to see you __________.”

Let’s weave it all together with a copy-and-paste-able script:

Hey, 

I’ve noticed something that’s troubling me.

And before I say another word, I want you to understand that I deeply appreciate you, and what I’m about to say isn’t a criticism of your character.

It’s just a trend that I want to talk about.

I’ve noticed that [the weekly newsletter has contained quite a few typos / you’ve been consistently showing up late / you’ve been tricky to get ahold of during work-time / when I share my feelings about getting pregnant, you seem to drift off into another world].

I want you to know that [ the weekly newsletter / punctuality / being able to get ahold of you / having a child ] is really important to me, and I’m counting on you to [ be the fabulous grammar-nerd I know you can be / show up on time + ready to roll / be accessible throughout the day / bring your whole mind + heart to these big conversations].

In the future, I’d love to see you [ using spellcheck / arriving five minutes early, just to be safe / keeping your phone switched on during the times we’ve agreed on / being present and focused, when we’re talking about the possibility of starting of family].

Thank you for listening.

And if there’s anything you need to share with me, go for it.

I love and respect your perspective.

[ your name here ]

Your triple-syllable takeaway:

FEEL. KNOW. DO.

Three words to ensure that your next piece of criticism is thoughtful, clear, and inspiring.

Got a piece of criticism you’ve been meaning to dish out?

Practice scripting your truth in the comments.

(You can start by simply jotting down what you want your listener to feel, know and do.)

I’m rooting for YOU.

XO.

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About the Author

Alexandra Franzen wants to live in a world where emails are short, love letters are brave and every “thank you” note is scribbled by hand. As a blogger writing instructor, she’s been spotlighted on The Daily Love, The Daily Muse, MindBodyGreen, Fast Company, Forbes and The Huffington Post. Her new book, 50 Ways To Say You’re Awesome, is available now. (And totally belongs on your holiday wish list. And gift list. And every list.) When it comes to being a better writer — and a better human being — she has a nine-word philosophy: Be generous. Keep it simple. You are not confused.

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