Last week I provided readers a post on positive criticism—that is, criticism that points out what we like about someone’s actions, possessions, or appearance. There, I explained that I think that just as there are immature and mature ways to provide negative criticism (see PROVIDING NEGATIVE CRITICISM: FIVE LEVELS OF MATURITY), there are immature and mature ways to provide positive criticism. When it comes to providing positive criticism, getting familiar with just three levels of maturity is usually enough to help us to design helpful feedback for people. I described the three levels as follows:
Level 1, the most immature form of positive criticism, is described as either:
a. too much positive criticism for something that is just too minor to warrant positive criticism
b. vague flattery.
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.
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 it.
Although in my earlier post I gave an example of individuals using each of the three levels, one of my readers asked for more level 3 examples. That’s a reasonable request.
A Linus and Lucy Example
Here we see Linus as he begins to write a letter designed to provide positive criticism to his grandparents. He is very specific about what action that they did that he likes–sending him a dollar for Christmas.
In thinking about what rating that Linus deserves, in addition to noting that his positive criticism was very specific rather than vague flattery, I also considered the following:
I’ve been reading the Peanuts comic strip for years, and I’ve never gotten the impression that Linus gives out too much positive criticism for minor efforts. This, along with how specific his positive criticism was to his grandparents, led me to think Linus deserves at least a level 2 rating.
In this example, as Linus begins to provide his positive criticism to his grandparents, he begins to consider his situation, noticing that his sister is becoming angry with what he is doing. He could just ignore her. Instead, he wisely decides on adjusting his letter in a manner that provides the positive criticism to his grandparents, and at the same time, eliminates Lucy’s anger. Nice!
For all of the reasons mentioned above, I’m giving him a level 3 rating.
Another quick example
Recently the New York Times publicly provided some positive criticism to Edward Snowden. Referring to him as a heroic whistle-blower who exposed wrongdoing by U.S. government spy agencies, the Times went on to say,
“When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government. President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home.”
The Times declared that Snowden’s disclosures — the largest unauthorized publication of national security secrets in U.S. history — had proven that the NSA has “exceeded its mandate and abused its authority.”
In considering what level the Times deserves, I noted that it does frequently publish too much positive criticism for minor accomplishments, but only for the products and services that occur in advertisements. Readers can distinguish pretty well what is being said by the newspaper’s advertisements and what is being written as news and editorials. And so, leaving this advertisement issue aside, the positive criticism of Snowden is, in my opinion, specific enough and major enough so that the Times deserves at least a level 2 rating.
I really don’t know what went on behind the doors of the Times editorial staff as they thought about publishing their Snowden editorial, but for educational purposes, let’s pretend that I do and this is what took place.
“Before we publish this,” said the chief editor, “let’s consider the situation. Many of our readers will become angry, and some of them might cancel their subscription.”
“We might lose some but gain some new readers,” said one of the chief’s staff members.
“Perhaps,” said another staff member. “What if we also include in the same edition that we publish our editorial, a piece that presents the other side of this issue, something that brings out all of the arguments that Snowden should be treated like a traitor? That way, we come across to our readers as a newspaper that provides them with a full and balanced overall position so we enable them to make up their own minds on the issue.”
“I like that,” said the chief. “New York Congressman Peter King has been calling for the harshest penalties to be leveled against Snowden. Let’s include an article featuring King’s position in the same edition as our editorial.”
If this type of conversation indeed occurred at the Times, then the paper deserves a Level 3 rating.
In both the Linus and Times examples, those who plan to provide positive criticism don’t only avoid giving too much criticism for minor accomplishments, they provide very specific positive criticism. Additionally, they take into account the situation and people involved, and are open to adjusting how they go about providing the criticism so it better achieves their desires.
Becoming a master at providing both negative and positive criticism requires the consideration of many, many examples of people using the highest levels of maturity. In future posts, I’ll be, from time to time, writing posts to provide these types of examples. In the meantime, I want to encourage readers to provide their own examples in the “Leave a Reply” box that appears below each post.
Have a great week!
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.