The art of criticism the skill of praise

How can you get your key employees to quickly develop the skills and talents they need?

How do you get them to understand what you understand?

In short, how do you get them to succeed?

These people can make your future immensely richer, fuller, and happier. But much of what they eventually give you depends on how good you are at providing them with advice and direction in a way that makes them feel motivated instead of discouraged.

There’s a Reason They Call It the Golden Rule

The first and most important rule of productive criticism is to treat the other person the way you would want to be treated. And that means, for the most part, taking your own interests out of the equation.

Let’s say you asked an employee to learn SEO marketing and you’re disappointed in the progress he’s made. Don’t tell him how tired you are of doing it yourself and how happy you’ll be when he’s ready to tackle the job. Inspire him by explaining how valuable he will be to the company once he has become an SEO expert.

By taking yourself out of the picture, you will have a clearer sense of what to say to motivate him. Your enthusiasm for wanting to help him will show through — and he will respond to it.

What follows is the strategy I use to mentor employees who have the potential to become “superstars.” I developed it in a higgledy-piggledy fashion over the years, but it works for me. I expect it will work for you too.

A Long-Term Strategy That Begins With a Show of Faith

Begin any mentoring relationship with a dose of praise.

Resist the urge to criticize, even if your first experience with the person’s work has been negative. Frankness may feel good, but it is counterproductive at this stage. Instead, find something that is good and worthy in your protege and praise him for it. Do it publicly, genuinely, and repeatedly.

You need a foundation of trust to build on. You need to demonstrate to your protege that you believe in him, just as he needs to believe in himself.

This is a critical part of the process. Don’t ignore or gloss over it. You must find something praiseworthy. And you must be entirely sincere in your commendation.

If you really cannot find anything to salute, you have chosen the wrong person to work with.

It’s Just As Important to Give Criticism When It’s Due

In the world of copywriting, I used to be a terribly fierce editor. It was not beyond me to write “gibberish” in the margin of a young writer’s heartfelt prose.

I reformed myself by coming up with a way to improve copy that banishes negative criticism. (If you’d like to learn more about this “peer review” process, I explain it in detail in my new book, Copy Logic. You can purchase it by going here.)

But I still criticize copy when I know the writer (a) needs to hear the criticism and (b) is emotionally ready to receive it.

Some time ago, Paul Hollingshead, one of the most successful copywriters I know and a former protege of mine, sent me a note commenting on some criticism that I leveled at a writer whom we had both been mentoring. Here is what he had to say:

“Those comments on AB really take me back. They are direct and right on the money. Now, I truly realize why I’ve had some success writing this stuff. I remember reading comments similar to these and they jolted… forced… embarrassed me into becoming a better writer. It’s good, in a way, that AB wrote such a terrible piece of copy. Otherwise you wouldn’t have responded as you did. And AB would never have gotten the benefit of your frank criticism. That’s how I got better. There’s no way I’d be here if you or anyone else had ‘pussyfooted’ around bad copy and tried to spare my feelings.”

But here’s the point. I don’t think Paul would have become the copywriter he is today if I’d criticized his first attempt at writing copy. He might have decided that he was better off in some other profession. In truth, I knew immediately that Paul was a natural-born copywriter. He had a believable “voice” that showed through everything he wrote. I told him that. I told him how rare it is. I predicted he’d be a great copywriter.

That was my show of faith. And that gave him, I believe, a foundation upon which he could stand when the time came for me to hit him with some serious critiques.

How to Productively Praise and Criticize Anyone Who Is Worth Your Time

* First, make her believe that you believe in her. Be honest. Be specific. Be profuse in your praise.

* Next, work with her for a while, giving helpful hints and gentle suggestions. Expect some progress, but not a lot. What you are looking to do is establish (a) the authority of your knowledge and (b) a common vocabulary.

* Then — after she has made good progress but reached a plateau — give her some direct, strong advice. Don’t be nasty, but be frank. Expect her to take it badly. Ignore her first, defensive response, if she has one. Remind her that you believe in her. Encourage her to continue.

At this point, one of two things will happen:

  • She will run away from you and never come back.
  • She will come back with an open mind, eager to move forward.

If she disappears, don’t worry about it. You did all you could for her. If she comes back, you have a superstar on your hands. The future is bright.

P.S. Much of your success can be traced directly to how you relate to those around you — and not just when it comes to doling out praise and criticism. There are many ways of interacting with the world that can affect your happiness and achievements. Later in the week, you’ll be hearing about a new program we’ve developed with one of the world’s top experts in personal success, Dr. Srikumar Rao. Keep an eye on your inbox for details.

  • While I agree with most of this excellent article (especially the part describing not to criticize in the initial learning steps -interestingly science finds (Sugata Mitra) out these days that kids learn far more effective in that stage if parents dont allways interfere their natural process of learning – http://www.dirktietjen.com/can-children-teach-themselves-true-learning.html -) I have some comments on one point which was stated in the article.

    When you say ” Then — after she has made good progress but reached a plateau — give her some direct, strong advice. Don’t be nasty, but be frank.” It gives us the impression that the writer is slowing down with his efforts to master the skill and being lazy on a plateau.

    From newer brain science and masters of Aikido we do know that every way to mastery involves plateaus where it seems nothing is moving. But its not the fault of the student its just the learning curve of practical skills where the brain needs to establish new connections.

    Its a different learning curve in comparison to learning facts. So in fact it is an important phase on the way to mastering a skill and cant be overtaken by with improved efforts. Suddenly, if one keeps practising like before, the quantumleap is there. Heureka – a new skill level amazing yourself, too.

    Dirk Tietjen
    http://www.dirktietjen.com/plateaus-a-good-sign-while-learning-mastery-in-an-online-business.html