How to give constructive feedback: Dale Carnegie’s 9 step guide

In his internationally bestselling book How To Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie teaches you how to boost your confidence and master any conversation. Amy Fisken investigates the practical advice he offers to help give constructive criticism.

Amy Fisken
How to Win Friends and Influence People

Begin with praise and honest appreciation

If you start your conversation with words of appreciation it will help soften the blow. Carnegie believes, 'Beginning with praise is like the dentist who begins his work with Novocain. The patient still gets a drilling but the Novocain is pain killing.'

Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly

People too often follow their praise with 'but' and end with a critical statement. This makes the original praise appear insincere and contrived. Carnegie suggests that we instead substitute 'but' for 'and'. He uses an example, 'We're really proud of you for raising your grades this term, and by continuing the same efforts next term, your algebra grade can be up with all the others.' Here, we have called attention to the behaviour we wish to change indirectly, and the chances are the person will try and live up to our expectations.

Talk about your own mistakes before criticising the other person 

If you do have to highlight someone's faults, you should do so humbly. If the person criticising begins by admitting the fact that they themselves are far from perfect it will be less difficult to listen to a recital of your own faults.

Ask questions instead of giving direct orders

By asking questions you often stimulate the creativity of others. Carnegie believes that, 'People are more likely to accept an order if they have had a part in the decision that caused the order to be issued.'

Let the other person save face

The importance of allowing someone to save face can't be underestimated. Too often people 'ride roughshod over the feelings of others, getting our own way, finding fault, issuing threats, criticising a child or an employee in front of others, without even considering the hurt to the other person's pride.' If we considered the other person’s feelings it would go a long way in alleviating the sting.

Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement 

We should take the opportunity to praise even the smallest improvement in ability. By doing so it inspires the other person to make a continued effort and to keep on improving. Carnegie writes, 'Abilities wither under criticism; they blossom under encouragement.'

Give the other person a reputation to live up to

If there is a certain area in which you wish someone to improve, Carnegie believes you should act as though that particular trait was already one of his or her outstanding characteristics. If you give them a reputation to live up to, they will make a determined effort rather than see you let down. 

Use encouragement, make the fault seem easy to correct

Be liberal with your encouragement, let the other person know that you believe in their ability to take the required action and that the necessary changes are easy to carry out. By doing so they will be more inclined to practise and they will not see the problem as insurmountable.

Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest

Ultimately, people are often motivated by personal gain. Concentrate on the benefits to the other person and be empathetic. Ask yourself what it is that the other person really wants and convey to them that they will personally benefit from taking action. 

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