D.J. McPhee
1 April 2024
Posted inTeam Management Post authorD.J. McPhee

How to Manage Criticism

Knowing how to manage criticism is critical for any manager. And importantly, knowing what is and isn’t criticism matters a great deal.

Because “criticism” often has a negative connotation. Instead, people will use the terms like “feedback”. And there are two directions that such criticisms can go in. It can go towards a team member, or it can be coming from a team member.

Knowing ways to handle this delicate issue is a very important part of being a good manager.

What is the difference between negative and positive criticism?

Because of the associations with the word “criticism” lets clarify that there are basically two types of criticism. There is negative criticism and positive criticism (sometimes called constructive criticism).

How to manage positive criticism

This type of criticism/feedback often focuses on the positive elements of a situation. The focus of the feedback is not to highlight the negative elements of a situation, but rather to focus on the positive elements associated with this. Not all projects are 100% good or 100% bad. They tend to be somewhere in the middle. As an example, an employee is often late to work. In particular, we might focus on how the employee is diligent when at work. Or they may have above average general performance.

Yet the question of tardiness needs to be addressed. When delivering this type of feedback, one way people manage criticism is to use what’s referred to as a “criticism sandwich”. First you provide positive feedback, then the issue that needs to be addressed, and then you finish up by providing another piece of positive feedback.

Positive criticism is intended to help an employee to grow in positive ways without negative feelings.

Will people still feel bad?

Unfortunately, it is impossible to ensure that someone will not feel bad upon receiving feedback. We cannot control how other people feel. All we can do is to make sure that we deliver the feedback in a reasonable and fair way.

There is a balance to be struck, and while we want to make sure that employees are happy and feel comfortable at work, it is still a business at the end of the day. Running a team in any department will sometimes have challenging moments.

You have a certain degree of control, but the employee in question also should also be trying to work on any areas that need improvement as well.

When you’re part of a team, everyone needs to participate.

How to manage negative criticism

Not all managers are the same, and not all management styles are either. Sometimes, some managers have a more direct, and sometimes abrasive way of providing feedback. Managing negative criticism can be especially challenging. It’s important to remember that despite the form criticism comes in, it all hopes to accomplish the same thing. Just in different ways.

Older styles of managing criticism might simply be direct and focus on the issue that needs to be corrected. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a problem with the employee, or even the feedback. For example, some managers might occasionally handle both positive feedback and negative feedback separately. They give praise in cases where praise is warranted, and give criticism appropriately.

Employees and managers have to handle these delicate issues carefully. Feedback is usually rooted in the desire to help the employee succeed. And managers have to remember that their words have an impact on the happiness of employees.

Managing toxic criticism

Sometimes, feedback feels personal. There may be unfortunate cases where people in management positions may abuse that authority. This is never an acceptable way to act—and this is true for managers and employees.

Feedback should always be rooted in the desire to improve, and never to hurt or be meanspirited. Another key point to remember is that there is a power imbalance in the manager/employee relationship. As a result, it can have a very negative impact on the employee receiving it.

Managing toxic criticism needs to be handled carefully, and it is often best to involve a human resources department if you feel that this is occurring. Remember, an employee should never be exposed to toxic criticism. If you find that one of your managers is engaging in this sort of behaviour, actions may need to be taken to address this behaviour.

After all, managers aren’t immune from needing to improve their own work performance.

Managing criticism as a manager

Like we said above, managers are not immune to needing to improve. Management styles go out of fashion.

Remember, managers can have a lot to learn as well through criticism.

Managers sometimes need to receive criticism as well. In these cases, managers might want to encourage employees to go through HR channels. Accordingly, this can help make employees feel comfortable in providing feedback for managers. Sometimes, even just acknowledging the imbalance helps. In other cases, managers have an open-door policy when it comes to feedback. But not all methods will work for all employees.

Remember, all members of the team have a goal to accomplish. A happy workplace can help to achieve those goals more effectively than a toxic one since happy employees are more effective.

D.J. McPhee
1 April 2024
Posted inTeam Management
Post author D.J. McPhee
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