Tag Archives: Dr. Deborah Bright

It’s Time to Take the Politics Out of Criticism in the Workplace

3 Aug

Business people

Today there seems to be a concerted trend toward the inception of a policy of intolerance for not just the use of but the very mention of the word “criticism” in the workplace. Exactly who it is behind this trend or why it is happening remains a mystery. While the roots of the trend might likely be found within the secret motivations of various organizations’ overly sensitive political correctness elite, the top-top management of organizations appear unaware of what’s going on.

Recent findings from a national survey conducted jointly by NMA and Bright Enterprises reported that 58% of managers have no problem with the use of the word.

While the actual word, “criticism,” may impress many as something to be avoided rather than cherished, 80% of NMA managers actually have a very positive view of the importance of using criticism in the workplace. Believe it or not, the majority of respondents overwhelmingly view criticism as a powerful motivator, performance enhancer, builder of trust and respect, and a change agent.

Nevertheless, they do appreciate that, used improperly, criticism can cause major problems in relationships. Why? Because few think about where the definitional dividing line is between the word “criticism” and other seemingly synonymic words like “insult”, “condemnation”, “disparagement”, etc .

Using replacement words like “feedback” or “caring confrontation,” while understandably softer and more “acceptable”, doesn’t carry the suggested threat of consequence that criticism does if no action is taken on the part of the receiver. In fact, besides being unclear about whether any action is necessary, very importantly, receivers may not even be aware of any non-action consequences if no action or the wrong action is taken.

Such factors alone are what distinguishes the uniqueness of the word “criticism” from substitute words or phrases designed to preserve the relationship but in the process camouflage the weight of the message’s meaning.

What is needed is for organizations to identify and reeducate those who think the use of the word” criticism” should be banished from the workplace. Why? Because there is no other word that can adequately substitute the full gravity of its effectiveness. But, maybe even more importantly, such people really do not understand what benefits accrue to the organization when criticism and its proper use are understood by all throughout the organization.

Furthermore, it is the lack of skill in this area that most likely contributes greatly to criticism’s bad reputation. Interestingly, 65% of Managers from the NMA and Bright Enterprises national survey admitted to receiving no training on how to give criticism and another 70% of women and 58% of men admitted to receiving no training on how to be a receptive receiver.  What’s more, of those who reported having received any training, 49% believe it was inadequate.

So is banishing the word really the answer? I think not.

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 is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).

Is Dressing for Success an Outdated Concept?

28 Apr


With what I am observing in organizations today, it appears that employees are increasingly caring less and less about their appearance. To put it a little more bluntly, it seems like “dress down Friday” has become “dress down Monday thru Friday” in many organizations. This trend got me thinking about what would happen if John T Molloy’s top selling book in 1975, Dress for Success, were to hit the bookshelves today? Would it still be the bestseller that it was back in the late 70s? Would organizations actually change any of their dress codes? Most importantly, would the author’s message gain any traction and cause individuals to change the way they dress? Being pessimistic, I don’t think Molloy’s book as written in the 70s would even get considered a “must read” among today’s office workers! But why is this and why the pessimism? And what has changed in the past 20 or so years that made “dress own Friday” “dress down Everyday” in most workplace settings?

Well, for one thing the social notion of personal rights has been extended to how we dress in our workplaces. I have been told, as probably you may have, that dressing according to your own taste is your personal right. Furthermore, I think a kind of revolution erupting out of the 90s against the wearing of ties, suits, dress shirts, skirts and just about anything pressed in the workplace, has created a kind of “anti conformity” or redefined cool when it comes to dress. Ironically, nothing could be more conformist than today’s dress down climate! And, while most organizations seem to be okay with the notion of “casual dress”, few have been successful in defining where to draw the line between just plain ugly and casual.

But consider this, have you ever been overlooked for a promotion or have not been given opportunities to take on challenging and visible assignments within the organization? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then perhaps it’s time to look into the mirror.

Please don’t think I’m suggesting that dress is essential to being successful. However, try being successful without dressing well! Furthermore, I’m not suggesting that you dust off Molloy’s book either. Rather, what I am suggesting is your choice of how you dress signals an attitude that influences how others think about you. Why else do we dress up for a job interview?

No one has said anything to you about your dress? That’s not surprising.  In today’s politically correct atmosphere, where there is a heightened sensitivity to anything negative, bosses and colleagues are most likely not going to say anything for fear of hurting your feelings or infringing on your sacred “personal rights”. So, rather than take a risk, it’s easier for them to say nothing at all.

One thing is for sure; don’t think that poor dress is going unnoticed. Sounds a little over the top? Well, think about this: if you subscribe to the idea that a cluttered desk equates to a cluttered mind, then what’s the corollary to someone who dresses in a careless and sloppy way?

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 is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).

You Don’t Have to Like Those You Manage

16 Oct

It’s yet another reorganization and, as the manager of the customer service department, you now have Marilyn reporting to you. It doesn’t take long before you secretly decide that you don’t like her. She has annoying habits that get under your skin. For instance, like most people, you hate to be interrupted and invariably, when speaking with her, she frequently, and unhesitatingly, boldly cuts you off in the middle of a sentence.. To make matters even worse, in meetings she has the habit of correcting you in front of others over the most trivial of items. She also anticipates what you are going to say before you have a chance to finish your sentence. She’ll say, “I get it,” when you believe she really doesn’t. Keeping this picture in mind, what do you need to do to motivate yourself to work with and develop this employee?

Let’s be honest, you need not think of yourself as the only manager who has had to come to terms with a situation like this. While it may take a lot of energy on your part, here are some tips to consider before you actually go into action and approach this type of employee.

Tip #1: Liking a Marilyn is not a prerequisite to dealing with a Marilyn

To begin with, even though you dislike this employee you must not be discouraged from managing her effectively. As a manager, no one ever postulated that you have to like the people who report to you. Your job and role as a leader is to work with them. If you have ever played competitive sports or acted in a play, you’ll easily recall how important it was to focus on the overall goal and to pull together, even if all the players didn’t like one another. It’s a similar situation here. Once you adopt this mental framework, you’re now ready to create an atmosphere of acceptance for criticism. That’s right! Once you realize that by using the proper application of criticism as a way of diminishing the behaviors that get in the way of the major goal of working effectively together, it is then that you are on your way to a successful working relationship. At this point, you are not pointing out Marilyn’s behaviors that annoy you. Instead you are investing time and energy to build a common understanding of how best to work together, so that future conflicts will be minimized and any criticisms delivered will be perceived as helpful.

Tip #2: Create an Atmosphere of Acceptance for Criticism.

Like most people, you might think that criticism of others is a sure way to invite conflict. But, the truth is that criticism, used properly, can be one of the best and most effective learning tools available to managers. It can actually enhance trust and respect in relationships. Most people fail at the effective use of criticism mainly because they do not first create the atmosphere in which it can thrive to everyone’s advantage. To establish an atmosphere of acceptance means taking some time to develop a clear understanding of how best to approach each other when criticism becomes necessary . What’s important to emphasize during your discussion with Marilyn is the role criticism plays at work and how it is linked to helping her to grow and develop. This is a valuable discussion to have because most employees have received little to no training on this subject. Furthermore, if your organization has painted over the word ‘criticism’ – like so many have – then like others in the workforce, Marilyn will be very confused and will need to understand this essential aspect of communication. To further encourage a two way exchange, find out if Marilyn has encountered bosses in the past who have engaged in candid conversations about her performance and what she can do better. By taking this broad approach you are positioning yourself to enter more easily into a discussion about how best to approach Marilyn with criticism. You should never have to guess about how best to approach her. During you exchange, the focus is to develop a common understanding of expectations. If you are wondering whether or not Marilyn would be able to engage in a conversation where she expresses her preferences for how best to be approached, fear not. It’s been my experience that every employee knows what turns them off and what turns them on. They just need to be asked. Millennials, in particular, are looking for feedback. What they are sensitive to is how it is delivered. It needs to be digestible.

Tip #3: Have a Marilyn’s Best Interests in Mind

It’s also essential for you to let Marilyn know you have her best interest in mind so she readily recognizes that the criticism is meant to be helpful. One way you can convey this is by making sure you always show value when delivering criticism. In order to show value, you need to link the criticism to what’s important to Marilyn or to her career goals. Let’s say in the six weeks that you’ve worked with Marilyn you’ve learned from talking to her that she places importance on being respected. Knowing that makes it possible for you to point out to Marilyn how her interruption of others sends the wrong message. More specifically, point out to Marilyn that interrupting others is not only rude but also conveys the notion that what she has to say is more important than what they have to say. It also communicates that she is not interested in listening to what the other person has to say, and that indirectly says she doesn’t respect them. Perhaps your reminded of the following expression, “I wouldn’t give you the time of day if I didn’t respect you.” So listening without interruption sends an indirect message of respect. Now, Marilyn will readily understand where you are coming from as opposed to concluding incorrectly that what you have to say to her is trivial or that you are picking on her.

By taking care to create an atmosphere for effective and acceptable criticism you are ready now to communicate with the Marilyn’s out there and turn them around from someone who is tough to work with to someone you can get along with and go forward. By putting these important tips to work you will immediately find that being open and transparent will be interpreted as helpful and that’s motivating, not only for Marilyn, but for everyone on your team who has to interact with Marilyn.

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 is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).

Receiving Criticism: Introduction

16 Nov

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, criticism is the most rapid and efficient communication tool for improving performance and creating change whether at work or at home.

However, for criticism to be effective, it requires a receptive receiver. The next few blogs zero in on what it takes to become that receptive receiver to criticism. After all, who looks forward to being criticized? For starters, as the receiver, you need to learn how to distinguish quality criticism: criticism that is meant to help from poor quality criticism or the type of criticism that is meant to hurt.

Giving Criticism: Tip #4

26 Oct

Tip: Make sure the focus of the conversation is on how to mentally take corrective action

Before giving another person criticism, it is very important to determine the corrective action, or the desired behavior upfront.  Doing this prior to saying anything ensures that the criticism is intended to help. After all, once the giver opens his/her mouth, the control shifts to the receiver. If you do not know what the corrective action is, the criticism will need to be delayed, aborted, or revised.

For example, one of Bob’s employees continues to ask questions that she should be able to answer on her own. Bob finally loses his composure and says, “You keep interrupting me with these stupid questions!  Why are you so dumb?”  This kind of criticism is not intended to help the receiver take action. It is destructive and its purpose is to temporarily relieve the giver. Even though the giver may feel better in the short run, what’s possibly jeopardized in the long run is a quality working relationship. Bob needs to “think before delivering criticism” in order to make sure he knows the corrective action upfront. Otherwise, he needs to revise his delivery. The next tip will provide some valuable insights. 

Visit www.drbright.com

Criticism is Inescapable

21 Aug

As we go through our day to day lives, criticism is an inescapable form of communication. Whether in our personal or professional relationships, chances are great that we will be criticized for something we do, or don’t do.

Take the workplace, for example, we can be criticized for failing to keep the boss informed, not delivering a report on time, failing to collaborate with other team members, or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Criticism isn’t limited to the workplace, it follows us home each day. We receive criticism from family members for not cleaning up the bedroom, putting dishes in the dishwasher incorrectly, talking back, etc.

Let’s not forget our friends.  Our friends can criticize us for being late to a birthday party, not returning an item borrowed, or when playing a round of golf being accused of moving too slowly, or hogging the ball in a basketball game.  The examples are endless and by now, you get the picture!

Since criticism is always around us, at work, home, school, and at play, why is it that many of us have not received formal training on how to handle criticism?

When asking managers and non-managers during workshops and seminars, 80% readily admit that prior to attending my program on criticism or constructive feedback, most, if not all admitted to receiving no formal training on the subject of criticism.

Think about your own training: Where did you learn to give and receive criticism? From whom? How long ago? Can you rely on the information you received to help you engage in productive conversations involving criticism?

Like other forms of communication, whether negotiation, debate, and gaining commitment, delivering quality criticism and effectively receiving criticism are skills that can be learned.

As seen in the Strategies for Enhancing Performance (2003-2010) national study involving over 320 participants in an experimental/control design, participants who received training on the subject showed a significant difference in their effectiveness at giving and receiving criticism when compared to those who did not receive the training.

If used effectively, criticism has many possible benefits such as: building trust and respect in relationships, providing valuable learning opportunities for receivers, increasing motivation, and improving overall performance.

If criticism is used improperly, not only can the effects on relationships be damaging, trust and respect for one another can be destroyed, individuals begin to doubt their abilities, and confidence levels can be crushed.

Because criticism is inescapable, and something we have to deal with everyday, learning how to effectively give and receive criticism are valuable skills to be learned and added to life’s tool box.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right- for you will be criticized anyway”.

%d bloggers like this: