Geeks have feelings, too! 5 lessons in giving and getting constructive criticism

I had just come out of a meeting with a group of engineers and I was shaken. A younger IT guy was pitching his idea for a product feature of the chief technical officer and the CTO didn’t like the idea and didn’t hide it.  After a few sentences he exclaimed, “This is ridiculous.  Next.” I could tell the younger engineer was humiliated.

critic Geeks have feelings, too! 5 lessons in giving and getting constructive criticism

Right after, I had lunch with an old friend of mine, one of the best managers in his business and I told him about the meeting. “There’s no reason for that,” my friend said coldly. “Sounds like the CTO doesn’t realize that other people, even engineers, have feelings.

I said that the idea being presented was pretty lame but my friend repeated, “There’s just never any cause to treat someone like that. Somebody has an inspiration, he wants to contribute to the process, he presents it and he gets spit on. You shoot him down like that and it’s the last time he’s going to get inspired for you again. Your criticism always has to remain constructive.”

Geeks are passionate and hyper-focused. Practicing constructive criticism can help to soften what may be abrasiveness edges and help to facilitate teamwork.  In constructive criticism, the operative word is constructive. It is simply engaging in a discussion the goal being to make something betterThe elements of constructive criticism:

START WITH SOMETHING GOOD
You can find at least one good thing to say about even the lamest of ideas.  There is some element that has merit and if there isn’t, then the person who is presenting the idea has merit.  “I like your enthusiasm” or “I like your thinking” are always good places to start when all else fails.  Rather than playing the role of boss or critic, play the role of teacher or parent.  “I think what you’re saying makes sense, but there might be a better way to get there.”

CHECK YOUR UNDERSTANDING
If something sounds so incredibly weird that it makes your skin crawl, it’s probably not.  Ask questions about the idea and the reasoning.  You might ask questions like “how would that work?” or “what would it look like?” or “what do you think the market is for something like this.”

KEEP THE PERSONAL POSITIVE
You may not have respect for the idea or the position but always show respect for the person.

FOCUS ON INTENT
When something strikes you wrong, try to discover what the person’s intent is rather than what’s wrong about the idea. They may need just a slightly different way of looking at an idea to make it work.

FOCUS ON WHAT CAN BE DONE TO MAKE IT BETTER
There is usually something in any concept or argument that has merit. Find those things and try to determine if the essence is good but the execution flawed.

Try these ideas the next time you are about to go into a tirade and you may find a more positive outcome.

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