Be a coach, not a critic

In chimpanzee troops, the leader sits at the centre. About every 30 seconds, all the other apes orient themselves to him. They take their cues from him. When he’s stressed or nervous, so are they. When he’s calm, so are they.

Like the chimp troops, we need our leaders to remain calm and in good spirits. When you’re in good spirits, you lift everyone’s spirits. When you’re down in the dumps and feeling stressed, you lower everyone’s spirits. Your mood and the way you deal with staff affects the way they do their jobs and deal with each other and their customers.

On top of that, the brain is hard-wired to give more weight to negative messages than to positive messages. Whether you intend to send a negative message or not, and whether it’s verbal or nonverbal, your messages carry weight. No matter how considerate, constructive and tactful you aim to be, your words can all too easily dismay, distress or alarm. To counter that, your messages need to be cool, calm, collected and mostly positive.

And, of course, the tougher your message and the less people want to hear it, the more difficult it is to get across. And sometimes you need to give a tough message. which is when you want to be a coach, not a critic.

Here are five ways turn your complaints & criticism into constructive comments so that your words sink in rather than sting:

  1. Think about your goal, not the problem. Focusing on a problem keeps you stuck with it. Thinking about how to remove or avoid a problem is destructive and negative. Thinking about how to replace the problem with something you want is creative and positive. So think about what you want to happen or what you want to replace, say, an annoying behaviour with.Saying something like ‘We both want the same thing, here,’ works like magic. Mentally step back and talk about what you both want to show you’re both on the same side. ‘We both want a good working relationship.’ ‘We both want to make the changeover a success.’ ‘We both want to get this problem rectified.’ Now, you only have to work out how to achieve your joint aim.
  2. Focus on the future, not the past. Thinking about your goal automatically means you focus on the future. Coaches avoid post mortems except to see what everyone can learn from them. They keep their sights firmly on the next game, the next match, the next round. Why criticise someone’s mistake when you could show them how to get it right next time?

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    You shouldn’t have …               From now on …
    You’ve done that wrong.          Try it like this.
    That isn’t right.                           Here’s what needs to happen.
    I’ve told you before not to …    Next time, try it this way …
    You never …                                 Could you please …?Outlining what you need to happen instead of blaming someone for something they’ve done or failed to do invites cooperation rather than resistance. It wins you support and improved performance.

  3. Be positive not negative. Thinking about your goal also puts you in the positive. Criticising gets people’s backs up and leads to arguments. Just what you don’t want in a professional relationship. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Discuss what can be done, not what shouldn’t have been done or what not to do. Here are some ways to turn critical phrases into coaching phrases:

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    Why can’t you …?                      How about …?
    This is difficult.                          Here’s how to do this. Watch carefully.
    We can’t do that because …     We can do that as soon as …
    You’re wrong.                             Here’s how I see it…
    We can’t do that.                        Here’s what I can do….
    No problem.                                It’s a pleasure!Finding solutions, not fault, strengthens working relationships and makes sure things are done right.

  1. Ask don’t tell. People tend to resist when they feel they’re told to do something, forced into something or given unasked for advice. Instead of demanding ‘Do it this way’, suggest: ‘How about…’ or ‘Would you mind…’.Try simply prefacing your comments to flag what you’re about to say or do. For example, asking ‘Would you mind if I make a suggestion?’ means you don’t ram unwanted advice down peoples’ throats.
  2. Be specific not general. You know what you mean, and you want to make sure others know what you mean, too.‘This report isn’t good enough – you’ll have to fix it!’ What specifically needs to be fixed? The layout? The content? The ‘voice’ or tone it’s written in? Is an Executive Summary needed? Perhaps more supporting data would help.Whether you’re being complimentary or constructive, say why. When you need to be constructive (that’s the coaching word for critical), say ‘because’ to take the heat out. When you offer a compliment, saying why you appreciate something sounds more sincere and makes it more likely that the ‘something’ will be repeated.

Coaching, not criticising smooths your professional relationships, brings out the best in people, and gets you more of what you want.

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