I taught a lesson on how to give constructive criticism, because it’s never easy to tell people what they don’t want to hear. Plenty of adults I know have no tact when it comes to giving and receiving anything other than glowing reviews of their existence – in fact, there are a handful of young PC volunteers that come to mind and could use a lesson or two in (receiving) constructive criticism!
So I draw out a sandwich/ hamburger, with the bread being positive qualities, and a negative trait sandwiched in between. This way, by slipping in a “needs improvement” between two “YOUR’E DOING GREAT!”s, the other person won’t feel under attack, and should be more receptive to your thoughts.
Sounds easy enough right? I let the students write constructive criticisms of their roommates, and wait to see the results. My first peek at their writings was a bit horrifying:
“Nancy is very sweet. But she is too short. If she was taller, she would be better!”
What?! Chinese people have a very forward way of talking about a person’s appearance that we would never do in America. We might think they are super rude, or maybe they think Americans are fake by hiding our thoughts behind “Well, I’m sure she has a good personality”
In this case, Nancy is being scolded for something she absolutely cannot change about herself, so this isn’t really constructive criticism. (actually height in China can be changed; there was a dangerous [now illegal] surgery where metal rods were inserted into a person’s legs and lengthened by 1mm a day to the desired height. Many customer-facing jobs in China list required height minimums in the job postings.)
But I tell the students to focus on personality traits, or features that they can actually change with hard work and dedication.
“Michelle, you always wake up on time. You should try to lose your weight from 55kg to 45kg. You are clever and like to laugh”
“Jack. You are friendly to our classmates, but you shouldn’t make many girlfriends, deceive their feelings. Of course, have so many girlfriends prove you are handsome”
“Emily, you look lovely. But your hair is kind of oily, so you should wash your hair.”
“Vivian, you are quick and tidy in your daily life. But you have a big temper. However, you take learning seriously”
This was a little better- in general, we can lose weight if we try. We can cut down on the number of girlfriends we have. We can wash our hair if we make an effort to, and we can learn to control our temper over time. (I also forgot to tell them to make the compliments and criticisms related; it does seem strange to sandwich “bad temper” between “being tidy” and “having good study habits”)
I tell them that it is ok to give the teacher constructive criticism. I was curious to see what they had to say about me, and here was their chance! They did not disappoint:
“Harrison, you are tall. But, you are very black. If you turn white you be handsome”
And then this:
“Teacher is smart. But his class has no point”