How Changing Three Simple Words Can Improve Your Team's Dynamic
Wednesday, April 22, 2020

You've spent days (or weeks or months) working on your project, and you're finally done! It feels great to be finished, and while you're not one to toot your own horn, you're really pleased with the results. You're going to be showing your project off to the group tomorrow, and you're stoked. With all of that pride and excitement bubbling inside, it can be crushing when the first three words of feedback you receive are, "it's good, but..." or "why doesn't it...?"

Having been on both sides of the fence – as both the critique-or and the critique-ee – I know firsthand that it's often very easy to immediately focus in on the negatives or shortcomings of something. Sometimes, this "negative focus" can even be rooted in a genuine interest in further advancement (versus simply ego or baseless criticism) – but rarely does it come across that way. Knowing that, let me suggest a small change that can make a big difference:

Instead of saying, "it's good, but..." or "why doesn't it...?", embrace the natural desire of a person to feel positively challenged by asking, "could it also...?"

From the perspective of the critique-or, the end result is effectively the same: you've highlighted what you see as a shortcoming or potential area for improvement. From the perspective of the critique-ee, however, there is a world of difference. Instead of feeling like the feedback was merely a hyper-critical knee-jerk reaction, they'll more likely feel that they're being asked to further embrace their talents. Personally, I get a bit of a rush when someone looks at my work and says something like, "wow, that's pretty slick! Can you make it ___?" It makes me want to continue to work hard for myself, my team, my project, and my company. I would guess that many others feel the same.

I have always been a big proponent of "baby steps". I would rather put something out there that adds immediate value – even if it falls short of long-term goals – than try to craft a masterpiece: something which could take much, much longer (and still potentially fall short). Every time we say, "it's good, but...", we're losing sight of the important fact: "it's good", and it's a step beyond where we were the day before.

Whether as a manager or a fellow contributing team member, it's important that we never underestimate the power of morale in delivering quality output. As the critique-or, you'll find that a few positive words go a long way – and as the critique-ee, it's far more palatable to address a negative when it's presented as a challenge rather than a complaint.

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