a Boss Should Avoid Criticizing Employees
us have experienced the frustration of being let down
by someone we depended on. When it happens at work,
your first impulse may be to criticize the person who
has disappointed you. Before you do, may I give you
a little criticism?
If you are like most
people, you probably cringe at the idea of receiving
criticism. While many of us find it difficult to hear
criticism, it can be even more unpleasant to be on the
receiving end of non-verbal criticism such as
rolling eyes, head shaking, or disapproving facial expressions.
Yet many managers are
not aware of the effects criticism has on employees.
With few exceptions criticism simply does not work
as a way of improving someone's overall behavior.
One reason criticism
does not work is due to a fundamental difference in
how people perceive the causes of their own and others'
actions. Research by behavioral scientists has found
most of us have "Actor-Observer Bias," where we think
our own behavior is caused by forces outside ourselves,
but others' behavior is caused by internal factors.
So while you may perceive
the cause of an employee's late report was laziness,
the employee may believe it resulted from not having
clear instructions or not getting enough support from
co-workers. Is it any wonder the employee may react
negatively if you express disapproval?
Yet criticism often
appears to work. An employee who has been criticized
may quietly listen to it then alter their behavior to
start doing things the way the boss wants. Everyone
is happy, right?
Not quite. An employee
who feels put down may be seething inside, just waiting
for the opportunity to "get even".
The need for employees
to balance the scales is a little known but important
principle of managing people. For most employees it
simply means ensuring they feel fairly treated, and
that the rewards of their job outweigh the costs.
Most people keep a mental
scorecard for each of their relationships. According
to Louis V. Imundo, author of The
Effective Supervisor's Handbook, some of
the things employees consider costs of working
Among the rewards
- loss of freedom
- loss of the opportunity
to do something else
- monotonous work
- office politics
- long work hours
As long as an employee
perceives that the rewards of their job are at least equal
to the costs, they will continue to come to work and do
a good job.
- job security
- challenging work
- sense of accomplishment
- flexible work schedule
- recognition for
a job well done
When a manager is critical,
it adds a tremendous weight to the cost side of the
most employees, constant criticism far outweighs any
rewards from a job.
seen companies go to great lengths to try to retain employees
by offering more vacation time, higher salaries, better
job titles and greater job flexibility – when reducing
criticism would go much further toward keeping employees
Most employees who are
criticized but decide to remain will find a way to balance
the scales. To "even things out" they may:
An employee who under other
circumstances might be willing to work late or go the
extra mile for their employer may be "unavailable" to
help the person who criticizes them.
- take longer lunches
- make more personal
- take extra days
- go on sick leave
- come in late
- leave early
- simply not try as
While someone may remain
for a while in a relationship where they face frequent
disapproval, most people who feel criticized will eventually
University of Washington
professor John Gottman has studied communication patterns
in married couples and is able to predict with 94% accuracy
which ones will divorce. He has found that criticism
is one of four communication behaviors (the others are
defensiveness, avoidance and contempt) that leads straight
to divorce court if it happens often enough.
If someone who has vowed
to stay "until death do us part" won't put up with criticism,
it's no wonder most employees won't either. Most will
eventually take their talents elsewhere.
So if criticism doesn't
work, what does?
Through extensive experiments,
psychologist B.F. Skinner found that the most effective
way to get the behavior we want is through praise
instead of criticism. Skinner found praise reinforces
the good things people do, while negative behaviors
tend to fade due to lack of reinforcement.
Many people are hungry
for appreciation and will repeat behavior that is rewarded.
If you notice people are not going the extra mile for
you, a solution may be to focus on the things they are
doing right and praise them for it. For greatest impact,
give your praise immediately and make it specific.
Reward even small steps
in the direction you want. Because criticism is so damaging,
Gottman says you need to give at least five positive
comments or gestures to outweigh a single negative one.
(Other research has found that praise should be given
intermittently rather than automatically or it will
eventually be taken for granted.)
In any relationship,
it helps to save the negative feedback for serious problems
that need to be corrected quickly. You can give feedback
in a way that helps someone improve their behavior without
feeling they have been personally attacked.
Point out the behavior
that needs to be changed without automatically attributing
it to a personal flaw such as laziness or a bad attitude.
Assume the employee wants to do a good job, and support
the employee by removing any barriers to doing the job.
Be a coach, rather than a critic. And make sure
you don't communicate disapproval non-verbally.
By reducing criticism
and increasing praise you can tip the scales in your
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