By Dr. Russ,
Is it possible to criticize others and at the same time improve their optimism?
- Recently I heard about a local theater company that employs both professional and amateur actors that actually invited the public to come in and offer critical feedback about an upcoming play for several performances before opening night. The audience gets to see the play for free or significantly reduced price for a period of five preliminary performances. After each performance, the lights come on, the cast comes on stage, and the audience is involved in a no holds barred critique of the play, players and their performances. Before the next performance the Director and cast get together to discuss the feedback, make changes, rehearse the changes and perform the next night. This procedure is repeated for 5 days and nights in a row to perfect the play and performance. By opening night it is much improved.
At the end of this corrective process, do you think the cast has more or less confidence in the quality of the show and their ability to deliver a quality performance? I hope you answered MORE because a state of optimism is enhanced when we seek feedback that results in improved skill, ability, and performance.
What are the key features of the above example that make the criticism - optimism enhancing?
- The cast invited the feedback.
- The audience members knew they would be asked to give critical feedback.
- If the feedback was unclear, a cast member could ask for an example or clarification to make it more specific and focused on a strategy to improve.
- The cast received the feedback, but was in control of what adjustments they could make.
- The cast got to do it over and over before “opening night.” They became "do-over-ers."
Optimism can be improved with criticism only if it is delivered in a manner which focuses the individual on specific ideas and steps to be taken to improve the task or performance.
- If the criticism leads the individual to feel attacked, ego threatened, and without any specific idea about how to improve, it will more than likely result in a hopeless/helpless feeling and a moment or more of pessimism.
Guidelines for Enhancing Optimism with Positive and Corrective Feedback
- Make sure the receiver is ready to receive the feedback. Do not blindside them with even the most carefully worded constructive criticism until they ask for feedback or you get their permission to offer it up. The “players” above asked for it. You can easily say to someone who hasn’t asked: “I had some ideas about how you could improve X. I’m wondering if and when would be a good time for me the share those with you."
- Always start with positive. No matter how prepared the individual is for the feedback, always begin with a specifically worded positive: “I really liked your enthusiasm and energy level that you displayed.”
- Avoid generalizations, particularly ones that label the person or character in a negative way such as “your behavior was unprofessional.” Instead be specific: “When you told that joke about the difference between the sexes, some people may have thought you were biased against women.”
- Use tentative language: “When you told that joke about the differences between the sexes, I was wondering if it might be a possibility that some people . . . “
- Invite and be open to some joint problem solving:
- “I liked the message of the story, but I am wondering if there is a different way to tell it so as to eliminate any possible interpretation of bias."
1. Ensure readiness to receive the criticism,
2. Start with a positive,
3. Be specific and give examples,
4. Be tentative in delivery, and
5. Engage in joint problem solving to make improvements.
All five steps are necessary if the critical feedback is to result in enhanced optimism, I NOW know how and what to do to make changes for self improvement,” and positive behavior change.