Criticism Myths

22 Jul

Few family business owners and their managers use criticism to strengthen relationships with others, enhance performance, and move an organization forward.  There is a reluctance to engage in feedback sessions and when they do the conversations often are weak and too vague to offer anything meaningful.

Dispel Three Myths

Leaders need to dispel four myths.

Myth 1: Criticism can sometimes be positive

In an era when “be more sensitive to others” has become a catch phrase, criticism is considered an objectionable, even unmentionable, word.  Many leaders disguise criticism by changing its name—calling it “positive feedback,” “constructive criticism,” or “caring confrontation.”

Criticism, at its core, however, will never be positive, and employees are quick to see through the use of less negative-sounding names.  So let’s start from a more realistic assumption:  Criticism is negative.  Trying to hide that fact is simply deception.  When used properly when interspersed with praise, however, criticism becomes an important ingredient in developing fine-tuned performance and maintaining consistently high levels of productivity.  The proper balance of criticism and praise leads to improved performance, becoming what many managers refer to as the “gyroscope of guidance.”

Myth 2: Criticism cannot be used as a motivator

Many leaders believe that the only way to successfully motivate others is through praise, a notion that is strongly promoted not only in the workplace, but in our school system.  Praise is easy for a manager to use because it is received with little or no resistance; its implication is that the person receiving the praise should continue along the particular course of action for which he or she has been praised.  Criticism, on the other hand, implies that a change in behavior is needed, so it is typically met with resistance.  No wonder the giver of criticism goes through so much anguish!  But when criticism is used well, the effort is worthwhile.  Pointing out the negative aspects of a person’s actions can lead to new challenges, along with greater opportunities to succeed and perform at higher levels.  For example, while a coach is criticizing an athlete during a practice session, the athlete is learning—learning how to perform better.

Myth 3: The giver is in control of the criticism process

Giving quality criticism requires thought.  The giver has to think about what change in the receiver’s behavior is desired and how criticism can bring about that change.  Because the giver initiates criticism, we tend to think that the giver is in control.  But unbeknownst to popular belief, it is the receiver who has control.  The receiver can—and often does—challenge the giver, either by asking for specific examples of behavior being criticized or by rejecting what the giver has said.  Also, the receiver ultimately decides whether to accept the criticism and ultimately whether or not to take any action to change a behavior pattern.  The giver only controls the preparation phase: that part of the criticism process that precedes delivering the criticism when the giver considers the best approach to a particular situation.


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