Is Constructive Criticism Helpful?

I have never liked the term “constructive criticism.” However, some say it is helpful in the workplace. There is a belief that constructive criticism helps increase perspective, creates bonds, and cultivates a trustworthy workplace. Some experts believe that constructive criticism should be sandwiched between a positive remark in the front and behind. For example, “Sara, you are good with customers. However, you need to work on your attention to detail, but we appreciate your positive, sunny attitude and what you bring to the team.” If you were Sara, what would you remember? Most of the time we will only remember the criticism and not the positive comments. Constructive criticism is defined as a feedback method that offers specific, actionable recommendations and facilitates positives outcomes. 

Leaders need to inspire, guide and challenge their teams. In a Harvard Business Review article, one expert believes there is no such thing as constructive criticism. The challenge is that for growth feedback is necessary. Criticism is negative feedback leaving the individual feeling judged.

We are all leaders, as the first person we lead is ourselves. The question we should ask ourselves is; “How do I inspire others/myself to be the best version of themselves?” Skills that make you a great team member do not mean you are a good leader. You can have excellent skills like focus, drive, attention to detail, organization, dedication, but how do you transfer that to motivate others to be their best?

When you are put into your first leadership role there is a learning curve on how to inspire others. It starts with communication; leading others is more than assuming they will do things the way you did. I have a friend who was promoted to a manager’s position. This person has over twenty years of experience and was a great asset to the team. She didn’t know how to lead a team and struggled with motivating others.

The greatest tool leaders have is empathy. It is uncomfortable for any leader to initiate a difficult conversation but when the team members know that the leader sincerely cares about them the correction will be better received. Getting results as a leader starts with treating your team members as the valued assets they are. People are not disposable parts; they are gifts, and it is a leader’s job to nurture those gifts.

Tips for Building Others Up:

1.         Let go of criticism

When people harbor beliefs and judgments about others, it hinders relationships, breaks trust, and causes stress and tension in the team and work environment. You are unique, and you have strengths and skills others do not. When cultivating others, do not expect them to think and behave like you. Focus on their strengths.

Shift your perspective by answering the following:

  • What strengths does this person bring to the table?
  • What makes them unique?
  • What value do they bring?

Letting go of criticism includes letting go of self-criticism. Give recommendations for ways to improve. Have clear communication and expectations.

2.         Avoid Assumptions

Surrendering and letting go of the past allows you the freedom to move forward. Please work with your team based on who they are, not who they were. Allow people to make mistakes. It is challenging for young leaders; maybe this is your first leadership role in allowing others to make mistakes. It would help if you stepped back, allowed them to make a mistake, and supported them as they learned how to fix it.

3.         Focus on Actions for improvement

Give suggestions on actionable things the recipient can do for improvement. 

For example, a nervous team member gave a presentation that went too long. You noticed that during the presentation, people stopped listening. Actionable feedback could be. “You spent a lot of time preparing your presentation. I would love to help you polish the presentation and shorten it. Would you let me help?” This kind of dialogue opens the conversation to becoming a mentor.

4.         Say Thank You.

It doesn’t matter if you are giving or receiving feedback. Thank the other person and express gratitude for the work they are doing. We don’t have to agree with the opinion of others. However, if you genuinely want to be your best self and help others be their best, you are grateful for what they bring to the table, and you need to tell them.  

Leaders that nurture a supportive environment for growth and feedback experience better work performance by team members. The main goal of leaders is to help build others up. Inspired employees are more productive and inspire those around them.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, YOU ARE A LEADER.” ~John Quincy Adams.

People are not disposable parts; they are gifts, and it is a leader’s job to nurture those gifts.

By Cheryl Viola, Executive Director, MBA