Unprofessional criticism poisons the atmosphere and demotivates one's counterpart. But asking the right questions at the right time can help keep a conversation moving smoothly.
1. Good questions and discussions involving criticism thrive on the introduction, and that has three steps. First, you must describe as objectively as possible what you have experienced yourself (I saw, I heard, I noticed …). The next step is to interpret what you experienced in a “favorable” manner, i.e. as a sort of positive basic hypothesis (I think, I believe, I suspect …). Then describe the desired behavior as precisely as possible. In other words, how should your counterpart deal with the conversation and the situation? Then you open the dialog with an open-ended question: “How do you see things?”, “What do you think about this?” or something similar.
2. There are countless ways to ask questions when giving construction criticism. An open-ended question, which is also known as an elaborating question, helps to keep the conversation moving and promotes an exchange of different points of view. A closed question, which is also known as a deciding question, helps make commonalities, solutions and agreements binding.
3. Never end a conversation without a question! Especially when expressing criticism. How does your counterpart feel? Has anything been left unsaid or are there other topics that need to be covered? You can also ask about the conversation that just ensued: A good discussion of criticism succeeds when, in the end, the person being criticized can respond openly and critically about the conversation, his/her feelings about it and the outcome. Criticism is never a one-way street, which is exactly why we have questions.