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Criticism and Teams

9 Sep

In a team atmosphere, managers and team leads must be ever mindful of the quality of communication that exists within the team. What is especially important to make note of is the use of criticism. While the proper use of criticism can keep teams functioning at a high level, the improper use of criticism can chip away at the building blocks of good teamwork.

Regardless of your role on a team, whether as a manager, team lead, or team member, think about what role criticism plays when in meetings or during one-on-one communications and answer these questions to yourself:

  • Are team members willing to address another team member if work is not completed on time?
  • If a team member presents an idea in a meeting, is it acceptable for others to deliver an opposing point of view?
  • Do team members avoid using email when needing to criticize another team member?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, then it’s likely that boundaries and guidelines within your team have clearly been delineated around the proper use of criticism. If you answered “no” to any of these questions, then it’s likely that the role criticism plays in teams is not well understood. When criticism is understood, and team members are skilled in both giving and receiving criticism, this helps to create a team atmosphere where trust, honesty, and respect can thrive.

Bottom line, our research has shown that you cannot have an exceptional performing team without the effective use of criticism.

Deb Bright, Ed.D., is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. She is also a best-selling author. Her newest book, entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books) is due out this October.

Letting Go of Negative Situations – Part 2

1 Apr


Some of us have a difficult time visualizing things. Others (and this may be you) may not care for the Wastepaper Basket Quick Charge or Helium Balloon Quick Charge introduced in my previous blog. Not to worry. Not all of us are visual. So, you might want to try other types of Quick Charges which can be just as effective at helping let go of negative situations.

As you may recall from my earlier blog, Quick Charges are easily implemented techniques designed to help users perform at their best when in difficult situations. They are instantly effective and undetectable by others. Here’s an example of a Quick Charge you can use if you prefer to talk to yourself. Try the “So What? What Now” Quick Charge. There are two steps that are always involved with this Quick Charge: the first is to ask yourself, “So what if…?” followed by, “What now?” or “What am I going to do about it?”

Take, for example, a situation where you have a meeting with your boss and she asks you a question that you are not prepared to answer. You are flustered and embarrassed about your lack of preparation. Rather than dwelling on the situation the rest of the day, stop and use the “So What? What Now” Quick Charge by saying to yourself, “So what if I didn’t have the answer? So what if I looked a little unprepared or unprofessional!” Give yourself 15 to 30 seconds to beat yourself up. (Most of us can beat ourselves up royally in 5 seconds!). Then ask yourself, “What now?” In other words, address what you are going to do about it. You can’t erase the mistake or negative situation, but you can take control by making the necessary corrections. You can also take control to manage or influence your image. For instance, besides deciding to get back to your boss with the appropriate answer, you may reassure the boss that you typically work hard at being prepared and that this is a rare incident. From there, make an effort to take extra measures to be prepared and point out periodically how you’ve lived up to your promise.

What’s valuable about using this Quick Charge is that your negative feelings and emotions are dealt with instantly, and it leaves you with little need to carry them over into your next effort. Whatever the negative situation, the important thing is to “absorb the mistake and remember the lesson.”

Letting Go of Negative Situations – Part 1

28 Mar

Letting go of negative situations and outcomes is an important skill to have in your toolbox. It allows you to refocus and reinvest your energies into more positive channels and can help you in establishing a sense of control. But how exactly can we harness our energies to rebound from temporary setbacks, disappointments, or even mistakes?

Here are a few simple methods you can use which I like to call quick charges. Quick Charges are easily implemented techniques designed to help users perform at their best when in difficult situations. They are instantly effective, giving their users a “boost” that helps them through high-pressured moments. Even better, they are undetectable by anyone but the person using them. They are like a “secret weapon” working to keep their user in control of a situation.

A Quick Charge that is particularly effective at eliminating negative thoughts and for rebounding from mistakes is the Wastepaper Basket Quick Charge. Begin by envisioning a sheet of posterboard. Take up to 15 seconds to mentally scribble whatever negative thoughts you are having at the moment onto the posterboard. Maybe you’ve just returned from a presentation you were giving where your boss pointed out two errors in your PowerPoints. You can mentally jot down, “How could I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I double-check my figures? I should have caught that! They’re never going to let me give another presentation, now!” At the end of your 15 seconds, envision yourself taking a very big paintbrush and painting a large ‘X’ across those negative thoughts. Then picture a big wastepaper basket – take the poster, crumble it up or tear it to pieces, and dump it into the waste basket. Then light a match and burn the whole thing!

If you are really pressed for time, the Helium Balloon Quick Charge may be your best bet because it’s an even faster way to let go of a negative thought. Simply picture a balloon being filled with helium – as the gas is pumped into the balloon, include your negative thoughts. Then release the balloon and let it fly away, taking your negative thoughts with you.

If you are visually-oriented, or have had visualization training, either the Wastepaper Basket Quick Charge or Helium Balloon Quick Charge will probably work very well for you.

Letting Go

26 Mar

When striving to enhance performance, the ability to “let go” is a valuable skill, and one well worth cultivating.

Letting go is closely related to flexibility, which I covered in my last blog. Letting go involves a combination of backing off, going with the flow, trusting yourself, and, for some, having faith in a higher power. When we talk about letting go, we are not talking about “hanging loose” or operating with a complete laissez faire attitude where you let whatever happens happen. Rather, we’re talking about eliminating the conflict often inherent in trying too hard, or forcing a solution to a problem.

Consider a situation where nothing in your day is going right, and the more you try to improve what’s happening around you, the worse things get. Or, you are away from work, spending time with your family and loved ones, and you can’t get your mind off of work. The more you tell yourself to stop thinking about work, the more you think about it. Or consider when you are tackling a problem and the answer just isn’t coming to you. The more you try to force yourself to come up with a solution, the more confused you get.

In each of these situations, and others like them, your energies are being misdirected because you are forcing things to happen, fighting either yourself or what you are trying to achieve. The more you force things, the tenser you become. You start worrying more about consequences than outcomes, emotions take over, and ultimately, you lose focus on what’s most important – staying in the present. By letting go and eliminating the “fight,” you can create momentum and allow your energies to flow better. In the end, that’s a recipe for staying in control and staying in the present.

In my next blog installments, we will look at some tips on how to “let go.”

Performance and Rigidity

28 Feb

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn today’s fast-paced work environment, how can we keep up? With ever-changing deadlines, real-time decisions and the shifting dynamism of teams, how can we survive and thrive?

To address these challenges, many of us seek to stay in control – of ourselves, or our environments. But in striving to stay in control, many of us can misdirect our energies at any number of points along the way, leaving us with a false sense of control. One way we can misdirect our energies is to rely too much on a self-imposed or learned rigidity, when instead we need to remain flexible. Flexibility keeps us in control, while rigidity can trick us into thinking we have control, when we really don’t.

This rigidity often manifests itself when we adopt rules or schedules in an effort to achieve a desired outcome, but then allow those rules or schedules to become the central, overriding focus of our efforts. One is reminded of the old adage of not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Take for example, the CEO who is determined to be healthy and have energy to get through the long day at work. He gets up very early in the morning and meditates, then goes jogging for 20 minutes, then eats fruits and cereal for breakfast while he reads the paper, all before going to work. To feel in control of his day, the CEO must religiously follow this routine for a “healthy start.”  If any of the steps are left out or not executed precisely as planned, he gets upset and is unable to get through the day with the kind of energy or focus that he needs. Or, think of all the people you know who can’t function unless they have their morning coffee!

Another way rigidity shows up is when a person doesn’t have a cadre of skills to rely on. We all face tough daily situations, and many that arise are not of our making. But the more skills you have, the greater your chances are of not only weathering the storms, but reaching your goals and performing at your best. Think of the golfer who can only hit the ball straight – when faced with a hole that curves to right or left, he’s at a clear disadvantage.

In the work environment, this type of rigidity appears when a person only has a limited number of skills to influence someone, or only one way to open a presentation, or operates with a one-size-fits-all approach when relating to individuals. It’s the boss who wants to resolve every issue his way because he’s always been successful doing it that way. Think of it this way: if you were riding a bicycle up a steep mountainside, you would be glad the bike had more than one gear!

We will look at some of these skills in the following blog posts.

Fostering Open Communication

30 Jul

Leaders can do four things to foster open communication:

1. Make criticism part of a routine day.
Address criticism in a matter-of-fact way. Help employees understand that criticism is as integral a part of doing business as paying bills. To be a well-functioning team, a group must operate with a level of honesty that necessitates leaving room for criticism.

2. Conduct more frequent reviews
An organization that conducts periodic reviews sends a strong message that open communication is desired. The developmental review is a non-threatening meeting where the manager reviews the employee’s performance for the purpose of giving the employee insights on ways to improve performance. Proponents of this practice say that employees listen more receptively to issues involving their day-to-day performance because salary increases are not discussed, as they would be in the formal annual review.

3. Do not shoot the bearer of bad news.
When team members “shoot” the bearer of bad news, not only are they delivering unfair criticism, they are also promoting an atmosphere that discourages openness and honesty. Rather than laying blame, be thankful that the information is being communicated.

4. Focus on solutions.
Getting entangled with the facts usually is a sign that the giver is not prepared. There could also be trust issues present. Effective givers and receivers need to be sure to invest time exploring possible solutions or reasonable courses of action to rectify a problem or prevent a similar situation from arising again.

Creative Relaxation Personal Quiet Time

18 Jun


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