Previously, we addressed the issues of some of the reasons why people cringe at the thought of criticism.  (How Criticism Affects Our Very Survival At Work) Today, we will discuss, how to give criticism.  Often, mediation is a form of criticism, where the mediator addresses the weaknesses of each side and “criticizes” a party’s case or evidence.  In order to make criticism easier on the recipient, there are several guidelines that you might consider when giving such feedback.  Pyschology Today, has some suggestions on feedback.  I have applied those suggestions to the context of mediation:

The 8 Rules of effective Feedback

  1. Always lead with questions: How do you think you’re doing? It gives the recipient joint ownership of the problem and helps him feel included, not excluded.  As a mediator, I often start to ask a lot of questions to the parties.  This enables them to hear some of the issues from their own mouths.  Moreover, it allows me to understand what the other side is thinking and how difficult an issue may be.
  2. Never give criticism unless it’s been invited; unsolicited negative feedback only provokes annoyance and will be discounted.  During the mediation, I will let the parties know my role — to discuss each side’s strengths and weaknesses — and I will get their permission to allow me to discuss those weaknesses with them.  Sometimes I will say something to the effect, “Part of my role is to explain the weaknesses and strengths of each side to the parties.  I will, of course, discuss your strengths with the other side.  Would you be willing to listen to and consider the other side’s strengths — and your weaknesses throughout the day when we discuss those issues?”
  3. Make sure you are seen as having the authority to give corrective feedback. Criticism from those perceived as peers or unqualified to give it incites resistance and rebellion.  Generally, the parties have done their research about me before entering the room.  However, it doesn’t hurt to slide some small comments about your experience without making it look like you are bragging.  Perhaps, talk about trial experience in a particular situation.
  4. Distinguish whether a demand for change reflects your needs or is a valid critique of how someone is doing something. Know when “You’re too demanding” really means “I wish I felt more accepted.”   I try to distinguish statements made by me versus statements made by the parties.  Often, I will tell the parties that these concerns are coming from me and not the other side.
  5. Never give feedback when you’re angry; anger alienates the listener. Expressing disappointment is more productive.  This point is somewhat self explanatory.  However, as a mediator, you may get angry with a party.  If that is the case, ask to take a pause.  Step out to the bathroom, get a cup of coffee.  But make sure that you are calm and try to reflect on why you are angry and whether you are adding to the problematic equation.
  6. Know who you’re talking to. Narcissists take any criticism as a personal attack; the insecure lose all self-esteem.  As noted above, start with questions.  This will give you a way to start to understand the personality of the person you are speaking with.  Listen, before you speak.
  7. Know yourself, too. If you’re relatively insensitive to criticism, curb the tendency to be heavy-handed when delivering it, says Cacioppo, who counts himself among the less sensitive.  As a rule, it is always best to consider that the person is sensitive to criticism, unless proven otherwise.
  8. Expect defensiveness as a first response to criticism; a change in performance may come later.  Generally, regardless of the nature of the criticism you provide, it is not uncommon for the parties and their lawyers to reject it verbally.  What they do in private may be a very different thing.

Another thing that science has proven is that people will be more willing to consider your points when they don’t feel they are attacked.  Often it can be very helpful to start with something positive, which will make the person more receptive to hearing what you are going to say.

Both Giving and receiving criticism can be very difficult.  Understanding why it is difficult can help you to become better and giving criticism without feeling like you sugar coated the entire comment.