How To Give And Accept Criticism In The Workplace

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Nobody likes to be told they're doing something wrong, especially not in a workplace. Some people dislike it more than others; they may feel anger or embarrassment when they are being criticised, by their peers or their superiors. But feedback is an important part of professional development and learning to deal with criticism -- rather than stewing over it -- will contribute to a more fruitful career.

Despite the negative connotations, receiving criticism can presents you with an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and help you along the path of self-improvement. But let's address one thing first: there are going to be people throughout your life and your career that will want to bring you down. They could just be negative individuals in general or motivated by jealousy and they will make comments about the things you do, leaving you with unpleasant feelings.

It's vital that you learn to identify whether somebody's is criticising you as a 'hater' or a 'critic'. This is something that is addressed in a video from The School Of Life YouTube channel, which is summed up nicely in this quote:

"We should distinguish between critic and the hater. Whereas the critic limits the psychological significance and fallout of their point of contention, a hater takes a small point of disagreement as a way of access to deliver wholesale bitter condemnation of us as human beings…"

Having said that, being open to criticism and not dismissing everybody who offers you negative feedback is key to our self-development; it ensures that our growth as people and workers do not stagnate. So why do so many of us still struggle with receiving and dishing out criticism in the workplace?

Joseph Grenny, a leading social scientist for business performance, believes it's because people don't receive feedback frequently enough. Which makes sense, since a lot of individuals, even those in upper management, tend to avoid unpleasant interactions like delivering criticism.

Grenny wrote in Harvard Business Review: "Let’s face it, not many of us look forward to giving and receiving feedback. In fact, if we could get away with doing it every five years, we’d probably prefer it that way."

After having observed successful businesses handle the feedback process, he has noted down what techniques appear to be effective in helping managers and employees tackle criticism:

  • Regular peer-driven feedback processes: Teams can hold regular meetings where everybody chimes in with positive or negative feedback about each other. While it's easy to dismiss one person's criticism, if other team members reflect the same sentiment then it's worth taking on board. These gatherings aren't intended to be a roast nor is it meant to be a love-fest. Because these sessions would occur regularly, it also lowers the emotional stakes so teams become comfortable with hearing the truth.
  • Show the care and respect: According to Grenny, "[t]he biggest predictor of whether people become defensive when presented feedback is not the elegance of the delivery -- but the motive behind it". After feedback sessions, it's important to let your teammates know that any criticism directed at them came out of care and respect for them. We have some tips on how to give constructive criticism to avoid sounding like a jerk.
  • Don't delay: Grenny said: " My research over the past 30 years has shown that you can largely predict the health of an organisation by measuring the average lag time between identifying and discussing problems." Don't hold back on criticism because you're afraid of confrontation; you'll be doing a disservice to your team and your organisation if you do so.

How do you handle criticism in the workplace? Let us know in the comments.


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