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How To Make Points And Influence People – Without Anybody Hating You

The Art of Delivery, Negative Feedback
by Caitlin Schiller | Oct 4 2014

Whether you’re in a leadership position or just starting out in your career, there will come a time when you’ll have to give some negative feedback. It’s a delicate art in that even if you’re doing your best to share an opinion constructively and compassionately, people are fast to find offense where none was meant. Luckily, there’s a way to control for this, and it’s all the way from 1936.

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Dale Carnegie, venerated lecturer and writer of the world-famous How to Win Friends and Influence People, had it figured out. Instead of giving people feedback, Carnegie explains, try helping them arrive at their own insights.

Carnegie asserts that, in general, making people aware of their mistakes doesn’t encourage them to change their behavior; nor does it help them learn anything. People are primarily driven by emotion, not reason, so even when your feedback or criticism seems warranted, it’s unlikely to have the intended effect. The person you’re reviewing, focused on the perceived attack, is far more likely to take offense and ignore your counsel – even if it was solicited and no matter how good it is.

Unsurprisingly, a defensive stance is not ideal for growth, so instead of offering a straight-up shot of tough love, you’ll do much better by helping a person see his errors for himself. Carnegie recommends facilitating change in people by guiding them towards their own insights regarding the problem.

The best way to mediate insight in others is by increasing their sense of autonomy. For example, if you wanted to help a coworker with a particular problem, rather than asking him:

“Why did this go wrong? What was the problem?”

Reframe the question in a more positive way. You could try:

“I’m sure you did your best with this. Let’s just work together and see if we can find a way to rescue the situation.”

Using this method, the defensiveness evaporates and, rather than setting up the dynamic of artist and critic, student and teacher, you become equal-footed allies set on solving a problem together.

For more timeless wisdom from the Missourian-turned-successful-city-slicker, take a look at his classic How to Win Friends and Influence People.

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