Skip has an article on "Constructive Criticism" that has some excellent guidelines for providing critical input in a win-win sort of way. In particular, I agree with Skip's statement that "Providing constructive criticism is an important part of the human improvement process."
That got me thinking about how success in giving constructive criticism depends so much on what's come before. If you take an interest in your employees, friends, family, etc. on an ongoing basis, it can make a huge difference in how the criticism is received.
Flip it around and think about people who have your tacit permission to give you constructive feedback. It's likely they are people that you know want you to do better, to succeed, to be happy. They've probably also taken the time to learn about what makes you tick, and have earned the right to comment on you by taking an interest and sharing (maybe even exposing vulnerabilities to you).
On reflection, I realize that I often don't take responsibility for my part in the feedback process. So what would "taking responsibility" look like to me? Things like:
Taking the initiative to ask for constructive feedback (giving permission)
Taking the time to learn more about the other person before foisting my feedback on them (earning the right by really taking an interest)
Being willing to be more vulnerable to others (building trust)
Listening for the message without getting defensive (accepting the feedback)
As I pondered this, I recognized some relationships in my life where I haven't been doing so well at some of this. Time to sharpen my saw.
Any points I'm missing?