Friday, March 15, 2013

"If You Don't Have Anything Nice Constructive to Say..."

A couple of weeks ago I was reading Victorio Milian's article, "You Should be Fabulous!" in which he shared some of his mother's wisdom with readers. Reading Victorio's article made me reflect on some of the wisdom that my mom shared with me when I was little. The first phrase that came to mind was, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. While this philosophy served me well as a tactless and brash child, it did not serve me well as a more tactful and empathetic adult.
"Flower Face" by Enokson CC By 2.0

Why the "Nice" Philosophy Worked

While it may be hard for you to believe, I was once a tactless, brash, ruthless, and unfeeling little demon. I was the child who, at the age of five, nearly got my parents run out of town on a rail because I announced to my Kindergarten class that there was no such thing as Santa Claus (I did, however, believe in the Tooth Fairy). I had opinions on almost every subject under the sun, and I was happy to share those opinions with anyone; regardless of whether or not my opinion was solicited. I felt that it was my duty as a human being to tell people when they were wrong, and explain to them why they were wrong.

Looking back, I can understand why my mother taught me this philosophy:
  1. My mother wanted me to make friends.
  2. She wanted me to live past the age of 8.
  3. Neither she, nor my father, wanted to be run out of town on a rail.

Why the "Nice" Philosophy Does Not Work

The problem was, as I matured and became more tactful, I stopped asking the difficult questions I had asked as a child, and I stopped challenging what I felt was wrong. I began to question my own perceptions and ethics, and I allowed others to convince me that their wrong actions or words were correct. I spent so much time worrying about whether or not others would perceive my words and actions as, "nice," that I willingly sacrificed my self-identity and my personal ethics for the sake of being "nice."

Just to clarify, this wasn't about lying to my best friend when she asked me if a pair of jeans made her look fat; I allowed myself to be abused, I watched friends buy illegal substances without saying a word, and I almost found myself homeless at one point in time because I wanted to be "nice" to a man that I was dating.

At work it is sometimes necessary to give feedback and address issues, and sometimes your findings aren't going to be "nice." As a manager it's important to give employees feedback in order to help them improve their performance, it's imperative that you identify and report potential and current safety issues, and address and resolve situations in which employee rights are being violated. As an employee you may be called upon to offer a peer your opinion about an important report, make management aware of potential hazards in the workplace, or speak up when your rights as an employee are being violated. Not saying anything at all could do more harm to the company and peers than good.
"Flower Face" by
Enokson CC by 2.0

Say Something Constructive

Constructive feedback, whether positive or negative, needs to be specific and objective. When giving constructive feedback about a problem, you don't want to make it a personal attack against the person; you should offer a solution or alternative, and you should be as direct as possible and tactful (the word "tactful" is underlined for a reason). For instance:
  • Instead of saying, "Your sales figures are very low, and you need to improve them." You might say, "I noticed that your sales figures have dropped, and I have some ideas on how to improve them."
However, there are going to be situations in which being indirect and offering an alternative or solution immediately would be wise. For instance:
  • Instead of telling your friend, "You do look fat in those jeans." Try saying, "Those jeans you wore last week really showed off your <insert name of body part>."
In other words, try to think of some way to turn a negative situation into a positive situation while standing by your opinion, sharing what you know to be correct, and maintaining your personal ethics.

Let's Talk

Feel free to share some of the phrases that have worked for you when you have had to provide constructive criticism, or practice on me by leaving a comment about the blog.


  1. Very interesting Charity. You never can judge a book by it's cover and you never can tell where someone has been or how they may just surprise you. Your writing style is fabulous. I love the fact that you are willing to be vulnerable and share your own experiences in order to prove a point and help others. Keep up the great posts, I see you going far as a blogger and as a human being!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jason. It's true, you can't judge a book by its cover; which is probably why I have so many interesting books. :-)

      Seriously though, shame is a very powerful emotion; sometimes it can motivate us, and sometimes it can destroy us. I made the decision not to be ashamed of who I was, what I went through, or some of the things I did in my past because all of these things have made me the person I am today. If the lessons I've learned can help others grow and to feel less ashamed for having to learn similar lessons in similar ways, then I want to share those experiences. At least that's how I see it.

      Thank you so much for the encouragement and the positive feedback, I really appreciate it. Also, thanks for helping me get the right shade of olive green for my background. Honestly, I tried just about every shade of green on the html "color wheel" and still overlooked it.

  2. Terrific post! The ability to provide constructive criticism is an important skill to learn. As a creative writer, I have spent many years honing my "constructive criticism" skills in responding to peers' writing (and in handling constructive criticism about my own work). Like you said, the trick is to make the criticism about something external to the person, not about the person themselves. Well written!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment! I agree with you, it takes practice to give and receive constructive feedback. Lately I have been jumping at the chance to practice giving constructive feedback, and I need to find more opportunities to practice receiving constructive feedback. Thanks again for stopping by, and I will definitely be dropping by your "class" again!


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