How to help others improve

Improving other people is a delicate subject. The issue is often that we have great ideas for others, but many times encounter an almost hostile audience. Why is that?

First, we need to understand that ideas for other people to improve themselves can either be solicited (based on an explicit request to you) or unsolicited(based on spontaneous observations from you). Second, an improvement idea can either be based on the past (observed behavior) or the future (general ideas for improvement).

With these two dimensions in mind we can draw a simple figure:

Figure: How to help other people improve

This figure tells us a straightforward story. Any improvement ideas, which are unsolicited, are either perceived as criticism, or lecturing. This approach to improving others is highly ineffective. Instead, always make sure that any of your improvement ideas for others are given in the context of an explicit request from the receiver. When it’s about observed behavior, this is the definition of feedback.

Yet, the biggest opportunity for improvement for any professional is to actively engage in feedforward. Next time you want to improve in a certain area-for example time management-, approach a few trusted friends or colleagues and ask them what are some of their best ideas to improve here. Then pick the best one or two ideas and start implementing.


Photo Credit: iStockPhoto/shutter_m

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