A lot of meetings go like this: Someone proposes an idea. The group weighs in with feedback during which time certain people can always be counted on to criticize, refute, and give every reason why the idea won't work. Whether you're a student in the Spanish Club, a counselor at a faculty meeting, or a parent at the monthly gathering of the PTA members, the next time someone proposes a new a fundraiser, a different system for scheduling student meetings, or a new way of recruiting parent volunteers, here are two ways to make your feedback more helpful.
1. Start by saying something nice.
When you start your feedback with, "Here's what I really like about your idea," or "Wow, that's creative. I never would have thought of that," it puts you and the person with the idea on the same side. It makes it more likely that any of your constructive criticism will actually be taken to heart.
2. Ask a question.
The best way to show someone you're really considering the idea is to show them that you really want to understand. So ask a question. Not a question that makes the person defend the idea, like, "We've always done the same fundraiser and it's great. Why do you want to change it?" Ask, "If we were to try this, what do you think some of the biggest advantages might be?"
Our editors actually rely on these techniques when we give students essay feedback. No matter what we think of a student's first draft, when we write our two paragraphs of initial feedback, we always start by pointing out what we like. When we go through the essay and make comments, we don't just point out what needs to be fixed. We highlight funny sentences, great word choice and effective images, too. If a student proposes an essay idea that we worry might not be the best choice, we ask follow-up questions to make sure we really understand the idea. And if sentences are confusing, we don't just write, "Confusing." We tell the student that we weren't sure what they meant and ask if they can tell us more about what they were trying to say.
When you give good feedback, people will be more likely to implement your proposals. Your criticism will be received without insult. And most importantly, you'll be demonstrating to the entire group that you can be counted on to weigh in thoughtfully and honestly.