You earn the right to give feedback. You can attempt to do it before that, but it seems to me that that is wasted breath. There is a temptation to play the hero. We are all adults. We don't need fluff. Give it to me straight. I think you can do that once someone values your opinion and even then there is an element of balance required. You can't always be pointing out someone's faults. Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada, via The Harvard Business Review, puts the 'ideal ratio' at around 6-1. I think many people's reaction to that figure would be a raised eyebrow thinking they are suggesting we should all be wrapped in cotton wool.
I think part of it isn't about the facts, it is about momentum. For momentum we need Mojo. We need to have a sense that some of what we are doing is worthwhile and valued. Taking criticism, even when valid, requires energy. If all you are doing is handing out and receiving punches to the stomach, then you are mighty impressive if you keep coming back for more.
If your culture is affected by the British stiff upper lip, there is certainly a part that wants to avoid things being false. There is a book I avoided reading for years because the title made me cringe. In fact, buddies used to use the title, without having read the book to tease people when they did something socially stupid. 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' feels a bit manipulative. Surely you would rather want to just be yourself and that should do the trick? Reading the book actually gave a lot of flesh to the backbone of Heaphy & Losada's work. A lot of what Carnegie says seems like common sense, but importantly it is common sense without the hero factor. People aren't heros all the time. We do get defensive. We only listen once you have won us over. Once you keep on our side.
Carnegie uses the example of Lincoln. Lincoln, he says, didn't admonish people. In a time of war, there were plenty of mistakes made. Lincoln would often get angry and write a heavily critical letter... then tear it up and start again. In a time of war, mojo is absolutely vital. If you are expecting someone to fight for you, mistakes they have made are almost irrelevant. It is what they do next that matters.
I am still in Australia, and met another cousin yesterday. I mentioned her siblings here (Barrack Bombers) and here (normalising suffering). They rock. Anyway, she is at the beginning of an exciting new business. While wandering the wine bars, craft beer breweries, and cheese bars of Newtown, Sydney we got onto the subject of the 'Three Second Rule'. If someone, within in three seconds of hearing what it is you do, responds with 'Have you thought of...', chances are you have. If you are trying something new, it is more than likely you have been thinking about it for years. At the very least months. But definitely more than three seconds. If someones stream of consciousness has made them immediately think of some essential feedback, slim chance it is vital and earth shattering. Earn the right to feedback by listening. I think the 'three second rule' is similar to the issue with feedback in general.
The 6 positives for every negative isn't an indication that someone is being balanced. It is an indication that someone is on your side. A really good friend who sticks by you through thick and thin is far more likely to find a receptive environment for pretty harsh (but true) feedback. A boss who makes it clear that you are valued, and that they trust you, is far more likely to be able to slip in valuable, rather than generic, areas for improvement.
Basically what I am saying is we aren't heroes. But we will fight and improve for people we care for. And Newtown has great cheese.