Criticism- Correcting Without Condemning


Having spent 15 years in the jungle that is corporate business, I’ve had more than my fair share of both receiving and giving criticism.  Some of which was constructive, much of which was not.  Both in the work world and at home, you really have to examine your motives for critical comments.  Is it to bring about some positive change in someone who is struggling, or is it meant to punish and humiliate them, to get your ‘pound of flesh’ for an employee or child who’s ‘let you down?’

At one point, I managed 25 employees.  That meant not only directing them, but redirecting them and doing an annual employee evaluation. Those wonderful sections on the evaluation form are a manager’s nightmare.  Strengths, areas of weakness, improvements necessary…  The wording was ever in flux.  As more and more incidents of disgruntled workers terrorizing their workplace occurred, the HR strategy attempted to ‘rework’ their approach to make it more positive.  It becomes a bit of a struggle to figure out a nice way of saying, ‘you’re not doing your job,’ in a compassionate, positive, reinforcing way.  Come on! Really?  If we water down the message too much, they won’t even get it.

I say that this goes back to both the manager and the employee not learning, as a child, the purpose and method of criticizing someone without crushing them or feeling crushed.  You have to take a coach’s mentality.  Make sure you make more noise about them doing something right than when they make a mistake. Get on the mistakes early so they don’t become a bigger ‘nobody told me’ kind of problem later.  Example for parents.  Little DaVinci-to- be draws on the wall.  There is that urge to lecture and use powerful phrases like ‘What were you thinking?’ (Obviously, they weren’t thinking. They drew on the wall for crying out loud!) Instead, take a look at the masterpiece.  Complement them on their use of color but tell them the wall is not a canvas.  Clean it up together. Even honest mistakes have consequences.  Then suggest a better medium for artistic expression.

What about the more willful wrong choices? Not doing a chore that was assigned or doing it partially?  Remember the balance of consequences.  That is real life.  If your child is stepping up their game, you have to step up yours.  Let them know it’s disappointing and in the real world, we would call this type of work ethic, ‘fired.’ Fired people don’t have income. People with no income can’t afford things. Some things they have may have to go away. My boys had a difficult time making it the extra 18” to put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher and kept leaving them in the sink.  Logic told me they did not require the use of the dishwasher so they had the ‘opportunity’ to hand wash their dishes for a few days. There were no lectures, just very real life consequences.  The dishwasher has since earned a new place of respect in our kitchen.

We can’t improve, nor can our children, without constructive criticism.  Don’t be too proud to share mistakes you’ve made in the past.  We do hope they will be spared some of our hard lessons. That’s part of the job description.  I hope you know I mean that constructively. J

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