Office Diaries

An insider's guide to success in the workplace

Why and When Criticism Is Good

Do you allow feedback to shape your best self?

I had an interesting career in corporate. First, there was a long run in the beauty business and then it was on to Wall Street. While the cultures were, of course, very different at either end of that spectrum, I always found it puzzling that people across the board were resistant to, and afraid of, feedback. I often wondered where the problem was. Did the organization not have the mechanisms in place to shape behavior? Or were individuals lacking the kinds of skills they needed to offer straightforward and honest information to their coworkers? With experience, I came to learn that it was a combination of both. Oddly though, organizations do have the power to change it, but it's power they don’t use.

Why not?

In a word? Fear. And so as that fear may be holding back individuals from managing their teams through the use of feedback, it can also affect leadership’s decisions when it comes to building infrastructure around performance development. If executives at the top are uncomfortable with communicating candidly, there is no hope that programs and systems will be implemented to help the organization get better at sharing information that is perceived to be negative, even though this is the same information that is critical to enhancing individual performance. Instead, employees exist in a bubble, not knowing or understanding what they need to do, and not do, in order to be successful.

Courtesy of Teerapun / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Before my professional career started, I had spent my life training to become a dancer. In that process, I relied heavily on feedback from my teachers. Sometimes it was brutal. Some, I'm sure, would even say it was cruel. But what it meant to those of us who were studying was that without the corrections, without being told what we were doing wrong, there was no way for us to get it right. In that environment, being called out on your mistakes was recognition that you had talent and someone saw value in being part of its development. It’s a model worth trying in the workforce.

Now, I realize in business not everyone wants to see you succeed and that there are managers who are not qualified to be in their jobs. But that doesn’t mean you can’t change your attitude about critique anyway. It’s not a bad thing.

All we need is a paradigm shift that works on the assumption that people want to excel, and managers should be accountable as teachers too. That’s it. But it also implies that adults have skins thick enough to hear when they are less than perfect. Egos don't like it.  But, it won’t kill us. It happens to be true! Otherwise, without feedback, people are left in the dark, blind to the things that may be holding them back.

This of course assumes that the feedback is lucid, untainted and objective.  Like everything else, you must consider the source.  But in the meantime, rather than think of it as something bad, dreaded and negative, think of hearing criticism as a form of consciousness that need not be feared.

I hope you'll join me on Facebook

 

Donna Flagg is the author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations and a New York City-based dancer.

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