“When is it appropriate for me to criticize my co-worker?”  I got the question from a young manager in my course: the Perfect Presentation, on campus at UCLA last week.

I felt flooded by the power to disabuse an entire group of people about an entirely inappropriate – yet pervasive – kind of communication: delivering unasked for criticism. I thought I’d expand on my academic platform and let you in on the etiquette.

How do you ask?

Have you ever asked for permission before you criticized a colleague, friend, family member, neighbor, or significant other? And not, “Hey, it’s time for me to criticize you: ready?” Nor telling them to brace themselves, “Here’s a heaping cup o’ criticism, coming your way!”

The concept of delivering “constructive criticism” is often obfuscation. It masks the intention of unloading a gnarled mess of “perspective” on someone who is (or is not) living out your dream of how their job (or life) should be done.

Maybe you don’t think you need to ask. After all, if your personal brand is “boss” or “know-it-all” then: fire away, right? Or, because your personal brand is defined as “role-model for those behind me on the path,” you have a duty to be corrector-in-chief, dont’cha?

Is it our duty?

So, I stood in front of the class and thought about the God given right to criticize. I thought about when God would give it. Other than “back away: the stove is hot!” do we have a duty to admonish someone on something where we know better? Or, think we know better?

It is a funny question because I teach. I coach. I talk at people from inside the television and tell strangers what I think they MUST do.

My personal brand and my job title invite people to come to me when they want to move further and faster in their careers. When someone signs up for that, I make sure I’ve been deputized to deliver feedback as part of our working relationship. In fact, I make sure that honesty isn’t optional and that I’ll only talk about what I know at a world-class level.

Feedback is not criticism

What does feedback look like? Direction. Encouragement. And, when necessary: the recommendation to change course, see additional choices or consider that one choice obviates another. You cannot be both an astronaut, and Kate plus 8.

So what’s the difference between criticism and feedback? The giver and receiver must think of feedback as a gift. You wouldn’t package poop and hand it to someone as a gift. You wouldn’t accept that as a gift.

And, you must have permission. As my friend Bob Gregoire says, simply ask: “Would you like my feedback on that?”

Here’s my feedback protocol

1. Share what you see as positive and powerful about what your receiver is doing – or wants to do – or has made an effort toward doing.

2. Then, share what would strengthen their performance, product or presentation.

And, if you are throwing a lateral – interacting with a peer, co-worker or friend – be as quick to ask for feedback, as you are to give it. That will slow down the urge to share, won’t it?