UNITED STATES—I always wondered if there ever were truly a difference between constructive criticism and blunt talk. I mean when one really thinks about it, they’re actually the same thing right? I guess it is how one perceives it, but in my honest opinion they are similar, it just depends on the terminology used. Why?

Well constructive criticism is a way of saying, I’m going to say what I truly feel, but I want to give you the indication that it’s coming from a place to ‘help you.’ Whereas, with blunt talk, the person is literally telling how they feel without the sugarcoating of labeling something as constructive criticism. Let me better clarify. In the workplace we tend to hear the words constructive criticism all the time. I personally see it as a way for that employer to notify you of some character traits and things that are slightly problematic.

Is the goal to make you cry? No, but the goal is indeed aimed to cause one to think. I mean can you see things any other way? Of course, you’ll hear the occasional “don’t allow your emotions to get involved.” How the hell is someone expected to take: your job performance sucks, or you level of communication is slightly lacking, or that you don’t speak with conviction and authority when you talk without having some emotional reaction to it.

When a person expresses how he or she feels to another person, without taking into consideration that the person will not be all butterflies when it’s something negative, expect the worst. Perhaps, that is one of the issues with our society. We don’t consider the fact that people are EMOTIONAL, we are emotional beings and we react, we will always react in some sort of fashion when we are feeling personally attacked. In some situations, a person may be a bit more passive, but trust me those words that were deemed constructive criticism have not been forgotten.

Now, let’s transition a bit to the idea of blunt talk. When I think of someone being blunt, it’s laying everything out on the table regardless of how a person is going to feel. Yes, I’ve seen this happen time and time again in the workplace as well, but more in a closed setting. You have those employers who will dose out a bit of constructive criticism in a group setting, than there are those situations where you might have a one-on-one with someone in management where the blunt talk effect is in action.

It does raise the question if it’s better to approach an employee when he or she is alone or with others. Personally, I think it’s more impactful on a one-on-one basis. Most times that blunt talk in a group setting is to scare others, but some in power fail to realize that some people won’t take being attacked quietly. You can run into that situation where the person chooses to personally attack and possibly embarrass you in a group setting. Yes, I have seen that happen, and it can catch someone in a managerial position slightly off-guard, so prepare for it, otherwise you’ll lose a ton of points with staff and end up looking like an idiot at the same time.

Rather you describe something as blunt talk or constructive criticism how you approach the situation is always crucial. Don’t just blurt it out; don’t just say what is on your mind. Think carefully about what you plan to say and how you plan to deliver it. It could be the difference between a staff member jumping ship, getting things in gear or holding animosity against you.