How to Deal with Criticism

Let’s be honest, most of us don’t like to receive criticism. We want people to compliment us and sing our praises. We want people to agree with us, and approve of our actions and behaviors. But, you won’t grow and develop unless you learn what you’re doing wrong or discover areas in which you need to improve. As Norman Vincent Peale once said, “The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

When Silence Isn’t Golden

During the first few years of the American Idol TV show, I would watch in amazement as contestants who sang like dogs howling at the moon would get mad, offended, or cry when the judges told them that their singing skills were [insert a negative word]. Some of the contestants may have been singing terribly on purpose as a publicity stunt, but most of the bad singers really thought they could sing. At the time, I couldn’t understand how people who sounded awful would show up at auditions only to be embarrassed on national TV.

I knew a guy who loved to lead meetings, group discussions, etc. He would always volunteer to be the person down in front, holding the microphone, controlling the meeting. Other people started grumbling about how bad he was, but these same people would go up to him after the meeting to tell him they thought he did a great job. One day, an individual came to the meeting late, sat next to me, and said, “Oh God, I didn’t know he was leading today or I wouldn’t have come at all.” I asked her why she always told the guy he did a great job, and she replied, “I’m just encouraging him. I don’t want to hurt his feelings.”

And then it dawned on me: this is how bad singers ended up at American Idol auditions. Their friends and family members didn’t want to hurt their feelings, so everyone lied and told them they sounded good. But would you rather find out that you can’t sing from a small group of people who love (or, at least like) you or when millions of people are laughing at you?

I’ve known people with work performance issues who had bosses that didn’t want to ruffle any feathers, so they didn’t address the problems. But as a result, these employees couldn’t understand why they were always passed over for promotions, or why they were never selected for certain projects. And sadly, they would assume that someone “didn’t like them” or “was jealous of them,” when that wasn’t the case at all. They weren’t promoted or selected because everyone else knew they lacked the skills or ability to perform at the desired level.

The Gift That Can Change Your Life

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

Thuy Sindell, a principal at Skyline Group International, Inc., the leading provider of scalable leadership solutions, tells HER Magazine, “If you tell an employee they’re doing everything perfectly, they’re going to continue doing the same thing.”

And really, this isn’t fair to the employee (who misses the opportunity for growth) or the organization (which isn’t getting what it’s paying for).

“Change and creative breakthroughs come from struggle — success comes after,” Sindell explains. “If you want employees to grow and challenge themselves, then you have to give them more than a pat on the back – but there’s a right and wrong way to deliver constructive criticism.”

Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group agrees, and tells HER Magazine, “Constructive criticism – that is, consistent, concise and honest feedback – is one of the most valuable things managers can offer employees.”

Ideally, criticism should be given in a supportive environment, balanced with positive comments. But if it isn’t, don’t let the delivery stop you from receiving information that could make you a better employee, student, friend, or partner. Some of the best criticism I’ve ever received came from people who didn’t like me. Remember that your enemies are keenly aware of your faults – and they’re more likely to be honest.

Tips for Giving the Gift of Criticism

While you need to be mature enough to receive criticism regardless of how it’s delivered, when you’re on the giving end, make an effort to be thoughtful. Our experts offer tips for providing workplace criticism, but these guidelines can be applied to any relationship or situation.

“The key is to give that criticism after first pointing out what the employee does well,” Thuy says. “Not only does this make constructive feedback easier to swallow, but also it makes it more motivating.”

If you’re a manager, Thuy says it’s your job to help develop employees, so take advantage of this opportunity. “Approach employee feedback openly, honestly, and with a critical eye.”

In addition, Domeyer recommends focusing on the fact that you want team members to succeed. “Equally important is making the meeting a two-way conversation, so employees can respond and ask questions and work with you to develop a plan of action for the future,” she says.

Whether you’re on the giving or the receiving end of criticism, remember that the true goal is personal and professional development.

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