When your expectations are conveyed clearly those on the receiving end feel good about providing the response you need. Unclear requests typically leave the listener feeling disappointed, discouraged, or disillusioned.
Those who hold you responsible for their negative feelings typically walk away and say nothing rather than risk telling you what is really on their mind. Your challenge, then, is to encourage them to express themselves without putting them through an uncomfortable or embarrassing process.
Negative feedback contains important information that can be both useful and confirming if you avoid personalizing it. Yes, it hurts and you may feel some pain, but it is not about you. The less reactive you are to negative feedback, the more honest and direct people will be with you. People need to trust that you will not be upset or react punitively when they tell you the truth as they see it.
Those who look to you for direction prefer that you know how they truly feel about most things. They also want you to be honest with them in evaluating their work. More importantly, they expect you to break bad news graciously and to offer criticism objectively.
Just because you do not like how criticism feels does not mean the act itself is without value. Criticism is simply the process of someone else reviewing your work and providing a summary of his or her findings. Think of it as a continuous refinement process designed to improve what ever it is you are trying to accomplish.
If someone could show you how to avoid making a mistake or teach you how to correct an error, you would most likely appreciate his or her doing so. It is not the content of the criticism that most of us wish to avoid, it is the method of delivery.
Communicating negative information, either before or after the fact, is a skill just like all the other skills you use every day. Granted, you may not be very good at it. Perhaps it is time to work on getting better.
Your purpose in giving criticism is to achieve clarity and build trust, not to hurt people’s feelings. But that may happen anyway. Your challenge is to keep trying until the recipient understands that the message is meant to be helpful, not harmful.
For example, you received a report that was not what you expected. From experience you know the person submitting the report does not handle criticism well and gets upset easily when confronted. You do not want to make him or her feel bad. You just want that person to do a better job.
Crafting your message so that it carries no personal blame takes practice. Until you get used to this more direct way of clarifying your expectations, it might help if you “script” your message. That is write it down and practice it before you say it for real the first time.
While such a change in behavior may seem awkward at first, that is normal. The fact that it is “not like you” shows the recipient that you are willing to try something new. It also provides evidence that you want your future relationship to be built upon trust, which is a critical first step toward neutralizing negativity.