Criticism–used well, this powerful leadership tool can promote positive change and strengthen relationships in business and life. Is it possible to use criticism at work without breeding resentment?
Dr. Deborah Bright, best-selling author and business coach, joins Family Wealth Alliance CEO Tom Livergood for a free webinar and fireside chat about the highly misunderstood topic of using criticism positively in the workplace.
Dr. Bright offers valuable techniques from her most recent book, rated by getAbstract as one of this year’s top 5 business books! She pulls tips from her book The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change to help us:
- Understand the essential role of criticism in the workplace
- Overcome common mistakes made when giving criticism
- Gain insights on handling difficult work-related situations
Register now for this free 1-hour webinar on September 14th, 2:00PM EDT. Turbocharge your workplace and career by learning to strengthen relationships and enhance performance with criticism!
Note: Dr. Bright’s 30-minute fireside chat will follow Bob Legan, of Whitnell & Company, discussing unique issues and planning opportunities with family owned or closely held businesses.
Many people have received little or no formal training on how to offer corrective communication or criticism. If they have, the training frequently raises more questions than it answers. As a result, there are a lot of people out there who are ineffective givers of criticism. Because the mistakes are so rampant, I’ve identified and described some of the more commonly made mistakes for you to review and when possible, to avoid making.
- Who Cares? Givers: These givers show little concern for the receiver and often overlook the empathy factor entirely. They are either in a hurry and pressed for time or so intent on correcting the situation that they fail to recognize the receptivity and emotions that are being experienced by the receiver.
- Where Were We? Givers: These givers tend to lose focus during a criticism exchange and are easily tripped up by receivers who are skillful at shifting the point of criticism and moving it to another topic. An employee who blurts out, “I can’t handle the way you are talking to me!” as soon as their boss begins a criticism exchange will have already moved the conversation off topic if the boss responds by saying, “What about my approach can’t you handle?”
- Just Do It! Givers: These givers fail to point out or explain the benefit of the suggested behavior change and believe that the value is somehow implicit in the criticism. In order for criticism to be acceptable, it needs to be delivered in such a way where the receiver can readily see the value associated with making the necessary change.
- The Sky is Falling Givers: These givers are notorious for never varying the intensity of their criticism. As such, all criticism is treated equally, regardless of the weight of importance or urgency. These givers often accompany their criticism with exaggerations and words designed to create impact. Eventually, the giver loses credibility because those on the receiving end catch on and learn to dismiss the severity of the error or criticism.
- Procrastinating Givers: These givers delay their criticism and operate with the belief that if they wait long enough the situation will correct itself or the problem will somehow magically disappear. Because nothing’s been said, receivers are falsely led to believe that everything has been satisfactory. In addition, because these givers are reluctant to say anything, frustration and stress build up as the situation doesn’t improve until eventually these givers blow up and say things that are far more damaging than if the issues had been dealt with early on.
While we have been looking at some common mistakes that givers often make, the criticism exchange is a two-way street. Even if the giver is eloquent in their delivery, if they are interacting with a non-receptive receiver, the conversation goes nowhere and nothing productive results. It only further proves that receivers are in control of the criticism exchange – so they need to be skilled in receiving criticism or else they will fail to embrace the changes that are necessary for them to make.
Our next blog will explore some common mistakes that receivers of criticism often make.
For criticism to be accepted and acted upon, it needs to be sincere and its purpose needs to be genuinely perceived to be of help. The giving of criticism is a skill that, when managed properly, can change relationships and people’s lives for the better. Unfortunately, the lack of resources and proper training on the subject of giving (and receiving) criticism has led to a mixed bag of approaches – and while some of them are of value, many have introduced skills and insights that have only added to the confusion.
To gain an understanding of some of the common mistakes made when giving criticism, let’s discuss some basic types of givers. I’ve identified ten giver archetypes – lets briefly look at five of them here:
- Quick Draw Givers: These givers “call it as they see it.” They usually speak before they think and typically overlook where and when they choose to give criticism. Their approach is based upon an emotional reaction with little thought to the consequences. As such, they often open themselves up to embarrassment when they are shown to be wrong, misinformed, or inappropriate.
- More About Me Givers: These givers generally like to deliver criticism according to how they prefer to receive it. They are more about the “me” and making themselves feel comfortable than they are about taking into consideration the preferences and needs of the person receiving the criticism. The goal when giving criticism is not to be comfortable; rather, the goal is to be effective!
- Hey You! Givers: These givers personalize the message rather than using an instructive tone by constantly referring to “you” throughout the delivery of the criticism. What these givers fail to recognize is that receivers are already on guard for personal attacks and so when receivers hear “you” frequently, the underlying message they pick up on is one of blame. As a result, receivers suspect that these types of givers may not have their best interest in mind.
- Guessing Game Givers: These givers make the mistake of letting receivers guess what actions they need to take to correct a situation. A lack of specificity, such as in the phrase, “You need to be more organized,” or “You need to take more initiative” not only takes a personal focus (see Hey You! Givers above) but leaves the receiver walking away from the exchange unclear on what exactly they need to do.
- Donut Hole Givers: These givers resemble “Guessing Game” givers because they lay out a general problem but fail to fill in the holes with any specific examples – leaving receivers confused about what is being done wrong. These givers base their criticism on nonspecific or questionable assertions, which leaves the receiver often feeling resentful or unfairly criticized.
We will take a look at five other common mistakes typically made by givers in my next blog.
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” – Winston Churchill
Criticism is all around us. It is part of our daily life. To ignore criticism or to wish it away is not facing reality. Criticism is a vital part of our existence and if we understand and manage it well, it can empower each of us. As a misdirected force, it can be used to destroy people’s careers, end relationships, take power and control over others, or erode a person’s self-confidence. Yet, if understood and managed for positive ends, this same force can build confidence, promote the achievement of certain goals, serve as a vital means for continual growth and inspiration, and build strong relationships.
It’s likened to using a saw. In the hands of a skilled craftsman, a piece of wood can be molded into a strong, beautiful work of art. In the hands of the unskilled craftsman, that wood can easily wind up in the scrap bin.
Tip: Avoid using, “we”, and “you” and stay in third person when describing a situation.
Avoid using “we”, “me”, and “you”. Not using these words makes the criticism less personal, and helps to ensure that the receiver will listen to the criticism and will take the necessary corrective action.
Let’s take Chris for example. Chris has been working to complete a report for over a month and has had to work long hours and on the weekends. After submitting the report to his boss, Tyler, his boss comes to him and says, “You did not get this report completed according to specifications”. Chris immediately begins to feel like a failure and like he let down the boss. A better way to word this criticism is, “This report is not completed according to the specifications”.
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Tip: Engage the receiver in the solution – “How can you do it better?”
When determining how the receiver can correct their behavior, or do something better, if you do not have the solution, or know the corrective action ask the receiver his or her ideas. Engaging the receiver in how to correct the situations establishes a trust between the giver and receiver and strengthens the relationship.
For example, Vivian’s employee has been producing reports with grammatical errors, which is causing Vivian to have to spend additional time editing them. Vivian simply says, “you need to improve your grammar skills”. More than likely, the employee is going to say, “Ok” and nothing will happen. Here is the same criticism, but has value and engages the receiver in the solution, “You mentioned to me in the past that you would like to write a book some day. Keep in mind that if you want to achieve that goal, you need to have better grammar skills. What ideas do you have for improving your grammar?” The employee responds by saying, “How about I take a grammar refresher class at the community college?”
In this example, Vivian asks her employee what ideas she has to improve her grammar skills which allows for the criticism to be well received and strengthen their relationship.