PROVIDING POSITIVE CRITICISM: THREE LEVELS OF MATURITY
Earlier on this blog, I provided a post that describes what I view as the five levels of maturity for providing negative criticism. Now let’s turn our attention toward providing positive criticism.
With positive criticism—that is, criticism that points out what we like about someone’s actions, possessions, or appearance—our task of distinguishing mature responses from immature ones is considerably easier than when it comes to doing likewise for providing negative criticism. That’s because people are far less likely to become defensive when you inform them that you like something related to them. I think just three levels of maturity are sufficient.
Level 1, the most immature form of positive criticism, is described as either:
1. too much positive criticism for something that is just too minor to warrant positive criticism
2. vague flattery.
In the above Sally Forth comic, the coach is giving so much positive criticism about good hustling for the girls’ slightest efforts that they are becoming sick and tired of hearing it. Thus, this is an example of positive criticism that best matches level 1.
If, instead, the coach just cried out, “Great job” to one of the players without saying anything more specific about what she had done that was great, his positive criticism would also match the level 1 description.
Now oftentimes it is so obvious why someone is saying “Great job” that there is no necessity to explain the reason for the compliment. For example, if one of the girls just hit a home run and the coach then says, “Great job,” everyone is quite clear why he is saying it. In such cases, the positive criticism would be rated higher than level 1 even though he didn’t explain his reason for his comment.
Level 2, the more mature way to provide positive criticism, involves providing enough detail so that the person being criticized ends up knowing what is viewed favorably and it avoids giving too much positive criticism for minor efforts.
To say to an actor, “Your performance was divine!” might be pleasant to the actor, or it might be viewed as shallow—something said to flatter, and nothing more. It is simply too vague to be really helpful. Better to say something like, “During your performance, when you are supposed to be upset, the way you wring your hands and the way you twist the muscles in your face, they really dramatically capture your anxiety; well done!”
Level 3 individuals seek to provide positive criticism in a manner similar to the level 2 individuals but first consider the situation, the person who is the target of the positive criticism and others who are likely to hear about the criticism.
Consider this Big Nate comic:
What does Nate mean by a Q score?
When Nate provides Teddy with a Q score of 96 and Francis a score of 93, these are pretty positive ratings. But because Nate provides a higher score to Teddy in front of Francis, a conflict begins to erupt.
In the future, Nate might decide that it would be wiser to provide his Q score only in situations in which he has privacy. He also might want to consider that within his school situation, even if he shares his Q ratings in private only to fellow students who promise to keep their score a secret, some will probably reveal the secret. Once this happens, he may find himself in heaps of conflicts.
As I pointed out above, in addition to considering the situation in which positive criticism is provided, it is also important to consider the person whom you wish to provide positive criticism before deciding on how to provide the criticism.
Nate attempts to provide Mrs. Godfrey positive criticism by letting her know that he is pleased to see her. His style of doing this is to provide her a friendly greeting that includes a chuckle. It turns out that Mrs. Godfrey is very sensitive about being laughed at. Now that Nate has learned this, in the future, whenever Nate wants to provide positive criticism to Mrs. Godfrey, he would be wise to take her sensitivity about being laughed at into consideration and avoid any sounds that might come across as a laugh.
Let’s take a little time to practice using this three-point providing positive criticism rating system.
Consider the following Blondie comic.
If you gave Blondie a rating of 1, you matched my own rating.
Here’s a Luann comic that has Mrs. Horner offering Luann some positive criticism. Do you think Mrs. Horner’s comment in the first box matches the level 1, or the level 2 description?
I think Mrs. Horner’s comment best matches the level 2 description. If she had just said, “Luann, you are so sweet,” I’m pretty sure a young lady like Luann would experience the comment as pleasant, and most likely she would know why the white-haired woman was saying she was sweet. Nevertheless, when Mrs. Horner makes it clear that she thinks Luann is sweet for “taking her to the store” this type of communication, as a general rule, is less likely to lead to confusion and doubts.
Here’s a little tricky one. In the last panel of the below comic, Quill provides Luann some positive criticism. Would you say it is at level 1, 2, or 3?
If I didn’t know what happened before the last panel, I would think Quill deserves a 1. After all, he just says while providing the positive criticism, “And now you sound it, too,” implying she now sounds pretty. But, by knowing what came before his statement that provides the positive criticism, I think he deserves a mature rating of 2. That is, at first he provides Luann some negative criticism. He does so by giving her very specific criticism. She has been singing to her toes, which has led her to sing through her nose. He then provides some specific advice about what she can do to correct the problem. When Quill ends up giving her positive criticism—indicating Luann now sings pretty—she is perfectly capable of putting together what he had just said moments before during his negative criticism with the positive criticism. She therefore no doubt understands that Quill thinks she sounds pretty because she now plants her shoulders back, chin up a bit, while singing. Given the context of his positive criticism, I think Quill deserves a mature rating. Quill doesn’t show us any clear signs that he has considered any situation or person variables before providing his positive criticism, so I’m going to stick to a 2 rating.
In this Big Nate comic, the principal provides Nate with some positive criticism. Do you think the principal’s comment best matches the level 1, 2, or 3 description?
In this context, the principal’s comments best match the level 2 description. Nate had just mentioned some very specific thing that he did, and when the principal says, “wonderful,” he is obviously referring to that specific thing. The principal, moreover, goes beyond Nate’s own description and adds some details about what he likes—initiative and leadership. This is quite clearly a level 2 style of providing positive criticism.
Let’s try another Big Nate example. The bald man with chin whiskers is Nate’s dad. He provides Nate some positive criticism. Does the criticism match the level 1, 2, or 3 description?
I think the father’s positive criticism is specific enough for me to say it matches the level 2 description. If he had just said, “I’m very proud of you,” a boy like Nate probably would experience these words as pleasant, and he probably would know what specific behavior of his that they relate to. Nevertheless, I contend that it is a good habit to get into the practice of being specific because it decreases the likelihood of confusion.
Nate’s dad adds to his positive criticism the statement about a celebration. Positive criticism is often designed to encourage someone to continue to do something. Did Nate’s dad add to his positive criticism the celebration after considering what works best to encourage his son? If so, Nate’s dad would deserve a rating of 3.
Okay! There you have it–some of my thoughts on positive criticism. Any thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.
Have a great week and a wonderful new year.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.