Manners: Constructive Criticism

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

I don’t like this phrase.  There IS truth here.  No one likes being told “oh my god – you are so ugly!”  BUT at the same time I really appreciate when someone leans over and whispers, “hey, did you know you have spinach in your teeth?” (and I totally just had to check my teeth to make sure there was nothing in my teeth).

Another place I see this is gaming.  I don’t play a lot of MMO’s for a variety of reasons.  It might be my #1 that people will say to the newbie “God! You suck!” and then rant and rave about the newbie sucking.  And when that newbie is me… well it doesn’t exactly encourage me to continue playing that game.  Why do I suck? What should I do to get better? Where can I practice?  Some MMO’s are better about this then others. Some have just a brutal ramp-up-learn-through-death that doesn’t make me want to spend money on that game/experience/ABUSE.

However, if you can provide, constructive advice or criticism…. now that is good manners. There are a few things to keep in mind:

    1. Context of relationship: In the business world, being brand new is not a good relationship to start necessarily critiquing someone. A friend can give different advice than a stranger. If I have a public argument with my boyfriend and then some stranger tries to tell me to get out of my abusive relationship; I am going to look at them like they are crazy. They saw one thing and tried to offer criticism. However, if a dear friend or my sister told me I was in an abusive relationship and they were worried – that I would take seriously. I might ask why. But they have the context, the relationship, to tell me something I couldn’t hear from a stranger.
    2. Provide options: There is almost never one-right-way. Just because someone is doing it differently doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing it wrong. Do they still get “desired results”? Your way may be less effort (at least to you), but this is where you go back to #1: if you have a close enough relationship, you might be able to offer a better option. If it’s a stranger… let it go.
      Just look at http://www.ikeahackers.net/ – IKEA could get upset that people aren’t following directions. But they recognize that what other people need may not be exactly what they sold.
    3. Construct. Don’t destroy – I think I’ve already made it clear. If you can’t give answers, don’t bother bringing up the question.  “God you’re ugly” has no good answers. Constructive words might be: “You know, that peach blouse really makes you look very pale and brings out the bags under your eyes. It isn’t flattering at all. Stick to these beautiful jewel tones.”
    4. Walk Away: Once you’ve given your advice, you can’t make the person take it. It may be you accidentally screwed up one or more of #1-3. You might think you are close enough to give advice, but the person ignores it. They may think the “option” you provide is worse than the problem. They may just not want to change. It doesn’t matter. Good manners says you walk away from it (metaphorically for sure, sometimes literally).

The last important thing I want to note is the difference between constructive criticism and advice. I’ve had people say “I just don’t give out constructive criticism, but I’ll give people advice” – and usually it isn’t true. Advice has to be asked for. If I walk up to a stranger and give them any feedback – that is not advice. We have a square-rectangle-relationship here.  All advice [should be] is constructive criticism.  Not all constructive criticism is advice. Advice is requested, constructive criticism is offered.

So let’s rework this old adage:

If you don’t have anything informed & constructive to add, don’t add anything at all.

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