Friday, June 18, 2010

Are you criticizing others too harshly?

No matter what kind of work you do, you need to rely on other people.

In fact, even if you don't work, you need to rely on others.

This became very clear to me one day as I was visiting with a new mother and her baby.

During our visit, she complained incessantly about how tired she was because she couldn't get her husband to help as much as she would like. Shortly after hearing all of her woes, I experienced first-hand the root of her problem.

She was criticizing her husband too harshly and as a result, he was demoralized and didn't engage very much with their child. My guess is that after hearing all of her criticisms, he wasn't feeling very competent.

To my ears, her criticism sounded something like this:
"Don't pick her up that way; you are going to hurt her."
"Please don't feed her that way, she needs to be more upright."
"Keep your voice lower, you are going to over-stimulate her."

Poor guy, it seems that whatever he did, it wasn't right or good enough for his wife.

I know this mother loves her husband and wants him to be involved with their child and she also is doing her best at being the best mother she can be. She is well-intentioned in every possible way.

I tell this story not because I want to fault this woman, but rather to highlight that even when you have the best intentions to do the right thing you can often unintentionally demoralize and cause others to disengage when you are looking for the exact opposite behavior.

Work situations are no exception.

Leaders who successfully get others to deliver results for them know how to manage criticism. Criticism is important for course correction, but understanding how to manage it for optimal impact is essential, especially during these difficult times.

At the foundation of behavior modification is ensuring the person has a positive belief in their abilities.

This mother will have the greatest ability to impact her husband's behavior if she is able to validate and reinforce his ability to parent his child as opposed to crushing it; which is what her harsh criticism is doing.

Too often, we focus on what isn't right and we want to fix it, as opposed to focusing on what's right and how to build on it.

When your kids come home with a report card with all A's and one C, the first question most parents will ask is "Why did you get the C?" The better question is "How can you become the best in the class where you achieved an A?"

Leaders always focus on what has been done well.

Focusing on strengths is one of the best ways to manage criticism.

In all of the interactions this father has with his child, there must be several things he does exceedingly well. His wife needs to focus first on these areas.

From that foundation, behavior in the "weaker" areas may improve. The best way to influence behavior is through positive affirmations, not negative ones.

Next time you find yourself surrounded by a bunch of "under performers," ask yourself a few questions:

Am I criticizing this person too harshly?
Am I focusing only on what is being done wrong?
Have I validated and reinforced the things this person is doing right?
Can I help this person build a positive belief that they are competent in some aspect of their work?
With Thanksgiving fast approaching this week, it is a good time to see the "right" things others are doing. Be a better leader and take time to build on the "right" things as opposed to criticizing the "wrong" things and you are bound to get the results

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