My first job after graduating from college was for the Federal Home Loan Bank in New York City. I worked there for two years on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center. Six months into my employment at the bank, I received my first review. Despite the fact that my first six months were relatively successful, I was also responsible for some major screw-ups which I contributed to a learning curve. Therefore, as the day of my “first ever” review approached I was very nervous and anxious.

The actual review took about 30 minutes. My supervisor discussed my past performances, talked about goals for the future, and finally gave me a very small list of what he called, “things to be aware of.” I believe this was a euphemism for “constructive criticism.” He never said one negative thing about my performance or my learning curve. In fact at one point it almost sounded as if he was complimenting my errors. He had a way of making my successes sound broad and amazing, and my mistakes small or insignificant.

I walked out of my first review feeling empowered, feeling good about myself, ready to move on to larger projects, and with a raise in pay. I’ll remember that day forever. It has shaped the manner in which I deal with employees, clients, customers, my children; and serves as the foundation for the 3 Power Steps for Giving Constructive Criticism.

It’s not always easy giving criticism to others, especially if it’s a loved one. However, if you follow the 3 easy steps described below, I’m sure you’ll find that the experience can be a rewarding and sometimes a pleasant opportunity.

Step One – Save their Face

This is a very fundamental and key step. Despite the fact that the person has warranted a criticism session, your central job is to build their self-esteem and make them look good no matter the circumstances. When you are criticizing another it is your job to approach the situation as if you are their teacher or mentor not a judge and jury. You must come from the mind set of helping not belittling. Avoid negative destructive phrases such as:

“No one in the history of this company has screwed up like this.”
“Only an idiot can make a mistake like this.”
“Your heart was in the right place, but your brain was out to lunch.”

Your job is not to rub their face in the mistake and make them feel worse than they already do. There is nothing worse than kicking someone when they are already down and out. You can save their face and make them look good by opening the session with positive constructive phrases such as:

  • “Don’t feel bad, I made the same mistake once.”

  • This could have happened to anyone.

  • “Relax, we’ll work on it together and create a solution.”

I am completely sold on the idea that a major part of the communication process is to help people feel better about themselves. Since you are the person about to deliver the critical blow, you have a tremendous opportunity and obligation to help that person change their behavior or correct their problem through the process of construction-not destruction. This mind set will create trust, rapport and credibility on your end, while the person on the receiving end basks in the comfort of your impeccable people skills. When you open a criticism session by saving someone’s face, the rest of the process will flow quite smoothly, because the person will relax and drop their guard. When someone drops their guard or lowers their defences you’ll find them in the perfect state of mind for step two.

Step Two – State Your Future Intention or What’s Expected

Now that you’ve constructively explained the problem or situation at hand thru the creative art of face saving, it’s now time to explain what behaviors are expected in the future. This is called the future intention or plan for behavior correction. Since the person is now relaxed and has dropped their defenses, you’ll notice they are very receptive and eager to listen. The process had not hurt them so far, so they’ll be ready to hear more of what you have to say. Future intentions for behavior modification must include 4 steps:

  1. The future intention must be specific.

  2. The person must thoroughly understand what you are asking.

  3. The person must have the ability to carry out the intention or goal-long term.

  4. In business cases, the intention must be in writing. (Remember: if it’s not in writing, it never happened.)

As an example a good future intention might sound like this:
“Now that we’ve completely discussed the issue and you understand its consequences, here’s what we expect from you in the future (fill in the blank). Since this was a trap that anyone could have fallen into, I’m sure it won’t happen again and we look forward to more great work from you.”

Step Three – Thank Them & End It!

That’s right! Thank them for listening and then end it-never bring it up again (unless the situation warrants it). It’s imperative that you demonstrate your trust in the person and their ability to carry thru. Avoid monitoring their every move. Avoid looking over their shoulder watching or waiting for another mistake. This will make you crazy and them paranoid. They are now fully aware of the problem, they have a plan to correct it, now it’s time to let go and tend to new issues.

I wish you luck and success!

About the Author:

John Eric Jacobsen was born to teach and destined to be a writer & motivator. In 1985 John founded “Jacobsen Business Programs, Inc.” ( ), a corporate seminar company helping people to succeed personally and professionally.

John’s experience is what sets him apart. With a diverse background in business, sales, communications, theatrical arts, dance and acting; John has the unique ability to not only be a great teacher, but also an amazing entertainer who can keep your attention. He has trained and worked with over a half a million people and has performed or taught all over America on stage and on TV.

John has also authored the national seller, “Conversations on Customer Service & Sales.” This is an amazing work designed to help businesses improve their sales and enhance consumer relations. John is proud to have the great Brian Tracy as a co-author.

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