4 Times It's Best to Keep Your Constructive Criticism to Yourself (Even if It's the Most Helpful)
There’s a lot to be said about the importance of delivering constructive criticism to someone when it’s necessary, and especially when it’s uncomfortable. However, I’d argue that you’d be lying to yourself if you said there weren’t times you actively sought out opportunities to “help someone out” by letting them know about something they did wrong. Sure, nobody’s perfect, and everyone’s bound to mess up from time to time. But before that becomes your default excuse for the fact that you’re “just critical” at times, here are a few times you should actually consider keeping your valuable thoughts to yourself.
1. Right After a Tough Meeting
I know how tempting it is to want to take out the frustration you feel after a tough meeting on, well, just about anyone who happens to be close to you. It’s the natural order of things, right? When someone comes down on you hard for a mistake you’ve made or a project you just can’t figure out, the first thing a lot of people think to do is to find a scapegoat as quickly as possible.
However, even if you have a bit of feedback that you think someone should hear, consider taking a quick breather if your first instinct is to share that information right after your challenging meeting. You could have the most insightful thing to say, but if it comes right after someone’s been hard on you, the odds are that you won’t deliver the news in the most productive way.
2. When You’ve Missed Lunch (or Any Meal)
This might sound silly, but think about what you’re like at work when you’re hungry, but don’t have time to stop for a meal. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably not the most rational person when this happens at work. And I’d be willing to bet that you’re also not very nice when that happens, especially considering all you want to do is drop everything and grab a couple of tacos.
I’ll be the first to tell you that your frustration is entirely justified. It’s hard to do anything well when you’re hungry—including delivering a bit of constructive criticism. In fact, CNN shares that there’s actual science that proves hangry people have a “harder time behaving within socially acceptable norms.” So, even if you’ve been thinking about something you’ve wanted to tell a colleague for a little while, make sure you’ve at least had some time for a snack before you share what’s on your mind.
3. While You’re Working on a Project You Can’t Figure Out
If you’re ever in the mood for some serious self-reflection, ask your friends what you’re like when you have no idea what you’re doing. You might not necessarily be mean, but you’re probably some combination of stressed, anxious, and nervous. Those are all completely reasonable feelings to have while you’re working on something you can’t figure out.
However, you’re probably not in a great mindset to give someone some constructive criticism. And odds are, you’ll take out whatever feelings you’re experiencing on the project, on whoever it is you happen to be sharing feedback with. While it’s perfectly okay to take your time on the project you’re working on, it’s just as acceptable to hold your tongue until the project is done if you need to deliver some tough news to a teammate.
4. When It’s Not Actually Constructive
You might be thinking, “All my criticism is constructive.” And I bet a lot of it is helpful, especially if it helps a teammate do his or her job a little better. But that’s the thing. Not all your criticism is going to help someone improve. And often, the biggest conflicts stem from feedback that’s delivered by people who aren’t trying to be helpful. Of course, there are going to be times when you just have so much going on in your professional (and personal) life that takes away any motivation to be nice. But, before you give someone “constructive criticism” again, take a beat and ask yourself if what you’re about to say will actually help the person who’s about to hear it.
The truth is that you have constructive criticism to deliver because you’re smart and have a strong finger on the pulse of what’s happening around you. And it’s up to you not to keep those things to yourself because some of the most profound growth you or anyone you know will experience will happen because you were willing to speak up. However, it’s also up to you to be smart about when you deliver those thoughts to your teammates. Even the best lessons you have to bestow on your colleagues can go unheard if you pick the wrong spots to share your thoughts—and that would be a shame.
Photo of co-workers courtesy of Martin Barraud/Getty Images.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.More from this Author