A couple weeks ago I had coffee with Kent Stroman, a fundraising consultant and generally delightful human being (more about him at KentStroman.com). A mutual friend recommended that we get together, and a few minutes into meeting I was glad that she had. Kent was engaging, congenial, and genuinely interested in my work.
One aspect of our conversation particularly stood out—much of it was spent discussing where my business was falling short. Not only that, I relished the talk and it inspired me to make serious improvements. This is not normal. Usually I don't like it when people tell me how to do my job better. I get defensive and it takes a couple days to process their advice (if I ever do). What was different about this interaction? Kent showed me that he cared.
The trouble is that when we give constructive criticism, we often try harder to demonstrate our own expertise than to help the person we're talking to. I'm guilty of it even though I know how frustrating it is to hear advice from someone who's most interested in stroking their own ego. Instead, Kent was seemingly unconcerned with his own reputation and completely focused on making my work more valuable.
So when you're offering feedback, forget about how much more you know than the person you're talking to. Listen carefully, affirm their successes, and offer ways to improve that will help them achieve even greater growth. Show that you care, and your advice will have real, positive impact.