Don't Criticize, Condemn, or Complain (but be Candid)
I had the privilege of attending a Dale Carnegie seminar, and the first principle they teach is what they call the "Three C's: Don't criticize, condemn, or complain." In his book, How to Win Friends and Infulence People, Carnegie explains that recipients of criticism typically respond by becoming defensive, which makes them less receptive to the message you want to send.
As an analyst, and as someone whose current job is literally to provide constructive criticism, I was naturally skeptical. In fact, a great part of the success in my work group (I felt) was due to a willingness to give and accept criticism. The two ideas were somewhat reconciled by Creativity, Inc.
Ed Catmull, Pixar's CEO, describes it not as criticism but as candor. "Put smart, passionate people in a room together, charged with identifying and solving problems, and encourage them to be candid with one another." This, he says, is the key to successful creative collaboration.
To some, the distinction between criticism and candor may seem a mild one. I believe it is a matter of mindset. Criticism entails picking something apart, while candor is a quest to make it better. Catmull encourages his directors to "remember, you are not your movie." If you become too close to your project, you tend to internalize criticisms of it as criticisms of you. The ability to step back from it and say, "yes - the project is not yet in the condition I want it to be in" allows you to accept the giver's candor and make your project better.
To internalize this practice, Tim Ferris suggests a 21-day no complaint challenge. He too distinguishes complaint from process improvement. So "I was stuck in line for half an hour. Ugh." is a complaint, whereas "I was stuck in line for half an hour - I need to get there earlier next time" does not.
If you have any other suggestions for increasing candor and decreasing counterproductive criticism, condemnations and complaints, let me hear about them in the comment section.