Assertions can be proven true or false. Assessments are only opinions. But opinions matter: Learn to make assessments, and you will come to see both yourself and others more clearly. Here is Fernando Flores's system for making assessments.
State the negative opinion first.
Conventional wisdom says that criticism should always start on a positive note — in order to make the negative easier to hear. But, says Flores, "If you start with a positive assessment, you lessen the sincerity and the impact of the negative assessment. People with ambition don't want to listen to positive assessments, because negative assessments are the ones that provide opportunities. That's why it is important to build emotional strength. You need that strength in order to hear."
Offer a positive comment next.
When the positive opinion comes after the negative one, it comes across as an act of solidarity and generosity. It also lessens the anger that the initial criticism may evoke.
Require a follow-up.
"I ask that we discuss this soon" is an important part of Flores's script. It suggests a deadline for action, and it says that the assessment is part of an ongoing stream of interactions: You will be assessed again and again; your truth and trustworthiness will be tested and retested.
End with "Thank you" and "You're welcome."
In Flores's experience, people find this direction to be the hardest one to follow: They forget to thank one another for the truth. "When warriors fight," says Flores, "they end by offering each other thanks. The thank-you must not be automatic — it must be felt. One must feel gratitude toward the person who engages you in battle."
A version of this article appeared in the January 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.