In Constructive Criticism or Compliments: Which Builds Your Brand Better?, I explained why constructive criticism is such a smart personal branding tool when used properly, and commenter Bruce Bixler responded beautifully in showing us how:
I liked the outline [of the article] but what is missing is specific example(s) of how a constructive criticism can or should be worded constructively. I use personal examples of my everyday experiences. And believe me there are a lot of examples of constructive criticism to choose from. (Self deprecating criticism there.)
In itself, Bruce’s comment is an almost textbook-perfect example of well-delivered constructive criticism in addition to being a personal brand-boosting blog comment.
Here’s the formula for constructing your own.
The formula for perfect constructive criticism
- Credibility-building introduction
- Compliment (optional)
- Suggested improvement
- How to follow up with you
Let’s take a deeper look.
1. Credibility-building introduction
The idea is that for your criticism to be taken seriously, the recipient needs some proof that you actually know what you’re talking about. And if you’re constantly trying to build your personal brand – as you should – you’ll want to give proof.
You could use your personal tagline, but the key point is that however you introduce yourself, it should be related to your upcoming criticism.
If the person you’re contacting already knows you, this becomes optional.
2. Compliment (optional)
The main reason to include a compliment here is to smooth ‘the blow’ and create balance; i.e. flatter the recipient a little bit to raise their spirits before you bring them down again.
As someone who likes receiving constructive criticism, it is more likely to raise my spirits than a quick compliment, especially a formulaic, inauthentic one, which is why I would prefer not to receive one here. However, as I mentioned in the earlier article, most people do not like receiving criticism at all, so feel free to use a legitimate compliment when you think it will help.
The main body of your message.
If you’re giving an opinion, say so.
If your criticism is based in fact, give your source.
Avoid any judgments of the person and concentrate on the focus of your reaction (e.g. their blog post, their report, etc.), unless of course the focus is the person themselves.
And overall, do not use any negative adjectives, adverbs or expressions because they increase the chances that the recipient will become defensive and not listen, leaving a negative impression of you and defeating the whole purpose of your message in the first place.
4. Suggested improvement
Too often, constructive criticism is delivered without any solutions in tow, leaving the recipient even more frustrated because now they know there’s a problem but they might not have a clue how to fix it or they would have avoided the problem initially.
Suggesting ways to best take your criticism into account makes it easier for the recipient to do so, as you map out a possible solution for them.
- If you mentioned a source for your criticism, then quote a suggestion from that same source
- Explain what works for you, as Bruce demonstrated in his comment above
- Share what you’ve seen work well for others
5. How to follow up with you
If you’ve done everything well up to this point, your recipient will not only take your advice, they will also understand that you’re a person whose advice is worth taking, and will want to know where they can get more.
Giving the criticism live and in person? Now’s a good time to present your business card.
Giving the criticism online? Make sure that whether over email or social media, anyone who’s impressed by your criticism will be able to find you via the related social profile, brand-building blog or website.