Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Constructive Criticism

Understanding what motivates the people you are leading is a great way to better assist them, but you also have other pressures upon you as a leader which can include your ultimate goal for your company as well as pressure from higher-ups in your own hierarchy. What’s more, even when you are an understanding and compassionate leader, some may seek to test this. The difference between an understanding but effective leader versus a weak leader is how well you respond when people attempt -- consciously or unintentionally -- to cross boundaries. When someone engages in behavior that’s detrimental to your overall leadership vision, occasionally you will need to intervene. What’s important in this case is that you intervene in an effective way that makes the situation better for everyone involved.

What are Your Intentions?

When you have to criticize or correct an employee, one of the most important things to consider are your own motivations. While it may be tempting to want to punish an employee who “acts up,” this can frequently create a poisonous environment in which the employee misses the message of improvement and only hears a message that involves asserting your superior position over that employee. This can recreate a sense of a parent–child relationship which runs counter to seeing the other person involved as a person and an equal who deserves respect. Punishment often has unintended consequences as well. If you look at the number of criminals who leave prison only to return again after a time, it becomes evident that punishment can harden someone into repeating behaviors as much as it can deter that person from those behaviors. Sometimes it is helpful to retreat from a potentially volatile interaction rather than addressing a person when you are angry. You can use email to schedule a time to address an issue, for example. This delay can allow you to restore your own emotional balance. Ultimately, you’re in conflict with an employee because they have crossed a boundary, whether it’s a social boundary or one related to your expectations for work. The more productive and effective approach is to find a way to correct the behavior rather than finding a way to punish the employee.

A Positive Vision of Success

One way to approach an employee intervention is to try to envision the situation playing out in such a way that there are no losers. You'll want to consider a way in which everyone has an opportunity to come out a winner. For an employee who has trouble with being at work on time or at all, this might be a powerful move that allows that employee to take greater responsibility in their life -- a long-term improvement, for example. When you develop a positive vision of what a successful correction looks like, you are better able to stay out of the punishment or blaming mentality that so often sabotages good intentions and well-meaning criticism.

Until next time ...


Sheryl Tuchman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

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