Advice or Criticism? Can you walk the thin line?

What is the difference between giving advice and criticism?  It is all in how you deliver, why you deliver, and how people receive.  

Criticism is a negative reflection on something the receiver said or did.  Advice is a suggestion on how to move forward.  So, when someone points to something I did or said as being wrong, that is criticism.  When someone advises me of what to do in the future, that is advice.

Criticism has a negative connotation to it.  Advice sounds more positive.  However advice sometimes can be as annoying and hurtful as criticism.

In general, silence and saying nothing can be better than a thousand words.  This is why we have to start with cases when a person better say nothing: neither advice nor criticism.

DO NOT give advice nor criticism if:

  • It will hurt the other person.
  • If it is a matter of opinion about how things need to be done.
  • If it is not worth it.
  • If the other person does not like to hear advice.
  • If you are angry.
  • If your goal is to:
    • Feel good about yourself
    • Vent your anger
    • Prove your point of view
    • Show your superiority or knowledge.

Criticize only in one single situation: When it is a safety, security, or major financial issue AND you, the business, or someone is getting hurt in a major way if you do not intervene.

Other than the case above, never give criticism.

If you want to give advice, here are rules that will make people accept your advice and see it as advice not criticism:

  • Make sure you have RAPPORT before ever giving feedback.  Rapport is based on trust in someone’s good intentions and competence.  So, build rapport with your employees and people around you before giving feedback
  • Try to be indirect in your advice, except in urgent dangerous situations.  Try to use a joke, a question, or a gesture to show that you have something to say.  It is best that they ask you for your feedback rather than you volunteer and give it.  For example: “Wow, you sounded very angry when you were talking with Lana the other day.” This will give an indication to the other person that you have something to say about it.  So they come back and explain or give you their perspective, and maybe will ask for your perspective.  This is better than starting off directly with “You were really rude to Lana the other day.”  Another way to do it is by asking questions, like: “How do you feel about the situation with Lana the other day?”  Another way to do it is to show on your face that you are struggling with what happened or what is happening.  In a subtle way of course.
  • For every one advice you give, skip Nine! Advise sparingly.  Especially with people around you like employees, family members, friends.  Many fall into the trap of scrutinizing everything people around them are doing.  That is very annoying.  Even if the intent is good, people do not like it when others keep correcting the.
  • Just because you have good intent does not give you the right to hurt other’s feelings.
  • Just because you are right does not give you the right to hurt others’ feelings.
  • Be considerate of how the other person will take your advice.  If they love to hear from you, you can be more frequent and more direct in your advice than if they don’t.
  • Try to be an independent party, like saying “Some might view that as too aggressive, what do you think?” or saying, “I have read somewhere about a way to do it and they say it works very well.”   Sometimes, it is better to leave self out of the situation.
  • Try to focus on the positive that will come out from the advice, not the negative that already happened.

As a rule of thumb, you want to give people maximum benefit and minimum negative impact

from any interaction.  That is the humane way of thinking.  No one wants to hurt others for the sake of hurting others.  Well, most healthy sane people most of the time would agree.  If you make this your golden rule in communication, you will master it.  And you will feel good about yourself.



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