While there may be some masochistic gluttons for punishment out there, in general, it’s safe to say that nobody likes to be criticized—especially for their work.
Most employees in a professional setting work hard and give their best efforts when performing their jobs. Having the end result of their work critiqued and criticized, therefore, can be damaging to their psyche.
At the same time, being open to receiving and learning from constructive criticism is essential to employee training, growth, and development. No employee is perfect, and everyone has areas for improvement. But, without openness to this type of input, it’s impossible for employees to improve.
Part of the issue here, of course, is that most of us have not received formal training in either giving or receiving criticism.
In this post, we talk about why constructive criticism in the workplace is a good thing, the benefits of what we call “criticism-open,” and strategies to encourage employees to be more criticism-open.
Why Criticism Is a Good Thing
The word “criticism” often has a negative connotation. People don’t like to be criticized, especially in work settings, because, as we mentioned earlier, they are by and large trying to put their best foot forward on the job. So, criticism can sting.
And yet, criticism, when constructive, can be a very good thing. Constructive feedback can help employees improve their performance, often positioning them to take on more challenging tasks and roles. When provided effectively, criticism benefits both the organization and the individual.
The most obvious benefit of criticism for the organization is that it facilitates improvements in individuals and their work. If a customer service employee isn’t energetic enough when talking to customers, the company benefits by letting that employee know so that individual and his or her manager can help him or her become more engaging.
If a subordinate is too focused on minor details when compiling reports for superiors, the company benefits by letting him or her know he or she needs to focus more on the big picture.
In addition, an environment that provides constructive, positive criticism helps improve relationships among staff members. While the idea of criticism might seem negative, in reality, the goal is to help make one another better for the benefit of both the employee and the organization.
An employee receiving constructive, well-meaning criticism from managers and coworkers should get the sense that those managers and coworkers care about the employee’s performance, growth, and development, rather than simply looking for a replacement.
Additionally, a culture that supports criticism helps to establish trust within the organization. Staff members can feel confident that criticism is given when appropriate and praise is legitimate. Rather than looking for hidden meanings and secret agendas, staff members feel more confident that both positive and negative feedback are honest and legitimate.
Just as organizations benefit by improvements in their staff, employees themselves benefit when they can up their games. Receiving constructive criticism is a great way to improve one’s performance.
An employee in need of improvement who does not receive constructive feedback is in danger of ultimately being replaced because he or she may not even know where improvement is needed.
Additionally, criticism can help kick-start action toward improvement in employees who may have become too complacent in their job performance and who may be satisfied with doing “just enough” to get by. Moreover, receiving criticism can generally help provide insights into the values and priorities of managers and the organization as a whole.
The Value of Nurturing Criticism-Open Employees
We use the term “criticism-open” employees to refer to those employees who are receptive to receiving and acting on constructive criticism. These employees can benefit an organization and its culture in a number of ways.
As discussed above, both employees and the organizations they work for can benefit from improvements in performance that come as a result of receiving and acting on constructive criticism. This trait makes them generally more trainable. But there are other benefits, as well.
For one, employees who are criticism-open are often better teammates because they are willing to listen to the ideas, input, concerns, and suggestions of other team members. Employees who are not criticism-open often think they have all the answers and are unwilling to consider other viewpoints.
Additionally, criticism-open employees are often effective communicators. Not only are they receptive to input as discussed above, but they often have a knack for anticipating the critiques and concerns of others, which is gained through experience listening to criticism.
Being able to anticipate the questions and concerns of others may help them address those questions and concerns up front, whether in the context of a presentation or during one-on-one discussions.
Tips for Encouraging Criticism-Open Employees
When an organization wants its employees to be receptive to criticism, it’s crucial that employees be conditioned to see criticism as something positive. This means not making personal attacks, avoiding overly negative language, and providing a solution as a follow-up to criticisms. Both employees and managers can be coached on how to present input in a constructive way.
Additionally, company leaders and managers should demonstrate through example their own willingness to receive and act on constructive criticism. This not only provides a model to follow but also demonstrates how those who have been successful in the organization exhibit this valuable trait.
Taking this a step further, it’s also important to encourage employees to actively seek input rather than sitting back and waiting for feedback from others.
“I’d like your perspectives on the presentation I just made; what could I have done differently to make a greater impact?” “You observed my interactions with Chris in our staff meeting. Any advice on how I could have handled this differently?” It’s important to ask, listen, and learn from this input.
Encouraging criticism-open employees is closely tied to developing a culture of inclusion where everyone’s views and insights are valued—both positive and constructive.
It can be hard for anyone to receive criticism, but it’s an essential part of improving employee performance and long-term growth and development. Encouraging staff to be open and receptive to criticism and to see constructive criticism as a tool for self and organizational improvement benefits not only the individual employees but also the organization as a whole.
The key for managers and trainers is to ensure the criticism is delivered in an objective and constructive manner without personally directing negativity and with solutions to improve any shortcomings that have been identified.