Deconstructive criticism is explained by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey in How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation.
According to Kegan and Lahey, constructive criticism—even when well-intentioned—dissipates energy. It suffers from these limiting assumptions:
- The person giving the constructive criticism—usually a supervisor—has the correct view of a situation.
- The supervisor is the only person who can offer feedback.
- The person receiving the feedback—usually an employee—has the wrong view of the situation and no right to respond to feedback.
If you reverse these assumptions, you get the basic premises of deconstructive criticism: Both supervisor and employee can have valid views. And, both can offer feedback.
Deconstructive criticism leads to comments such as:
- “I see what you are doing or not doing and, given my take, I don’t get it.”
- “Given how I see things, I’m puzzled.”
- “I have a take on this and it does lead me to think you are ‘wrong’ here, but….”
Will this conversation lead to the “paralysis of analysis”? No, say Kegan and Lahey. The result of deconstructive criticism is always “a temporary or ultimate decision about how to carry on, rooted in the shared meanings that the language has so far created.”