Bookshelf: Criticism that counts

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Many managers dread dishing out criticism. They view it as a dirty, distasteful job.

But for Hendrie Weisinger, author of The Power of Positive Criticism (Amacom, $15), criticism is a blessing. Delivered properly, it can motivate employees, define management’s expectations and build trust.

Weisinger, a psychologist and management consultant, writes that the reason so many workers hate criticism is that they take it too personally. As the boss, you can safeguard their self-esteem so that they welcome chances to learn and grow. Then they’ll treat criticism as a valuable, nonthreatening self-awareness tool.

Managers shouldn’t call it “feedback” instead of criticism, writes Weisinger. “By denying or avoiding use of the word, you rob the individual of the opportunity to learn how to deal with criticism.” Other tips:

Know your motives. If you’re using criticism as a weapon, it’ll backfire. And if you’re relaying your boss’s criticism after an employee made you look bad, beware of injecting anger into your comments. Speak up because you want to help improve someone’s performance.

Share perceptions, not judgments. A tactful way to criticize is to say, “I want you to understand how your actions were perceived.” That way, you’re raising awareness rather than finding fault.

Replace “should” with “could.” By using “could” (as in “You could have tried this approach ...”), you give the employee options and remain open to discussion. But if you resort to “should,” you are implying that the person was wrong and you’re right. That can trigger defensiveness.

Tread gently. If you’re treading on delicate ground—like criticizing someone for body odor—start by admitting you’re embarrassed. That reduces tension. Example: “I’m embarrassed to have to tell you this, and you may be embarrassed, too. But I want to bring to your attention your personal hygiene.”

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