Business Negotiation July 30, 2014

Criticism and its Negative Effects

As managers, peers or supervisors, we are often placed in the position of taking exception to how or what another person or subordinate is doing.   It is not a pleasant role, one that if poorly handled can reap havoc with any relationship, even a good one...

As managers, peers or supervisors, we are often placed in the position of taking exception to how or what another person or subordinate is doing.  It is not a pleasant role, one that if poorly handled can reap havoc with any relationship, even a good one.

Most managers see criticism as a necessary part of their job responsibility in getting what needs to be done completed within designated quality, time and cost standards.  What they wish to do is encourage subordinates or other to do the work in a better manner or to rid themselves of a certain dysfunctional habit that impedes their effectiveness.  They generally do not wish to punish the person criticized, but instead view their action as constructive and appropriate.

Some people criticize for unconstructive purposes.  They seek not to improve but to raise their own self-respect at the expense of another.  By finding fault or lashing out in anger at imperfections, they strive to establish their own dominance or superiority.  I have even attended professional conferences where people criticized other professionals by pointing out petty errors in their reasoning or analysis for no reason but to look good.  Criticism for these purposes is never constructive, guaranteed to do more harm than good to both recipient and sender.

Whatever the reason, well-intended or not, there is far more criticism at work than need be.  Most psychologists agree that criticism does not lead people to change behavior. Instead it creates anger and defensiveness on the part of the person criticized.  Communication between the parties is shackled, and positive relationships impeded.

Yet, we are left with a paradox. On the one hand criticism is ineffective, if not harmful.  On the other hand, some criticism at work is certainly part of the habitual interaction of managers and subordinates everywhere.  People at work do indeed fail to follow directions or make mistakes and need guidance in doing work correctly.

The trouble is that, as managers, we may unintentionally provide negative feedback to another eve when we try to help them change as carefully as possible. For reasons beyond our control, the other may interpret our best intentions as faultfinding and resent both message and messenger.  Constructive criticism that minimizes resentment is a difficult act to balance.
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