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Handling Criticism in an Nervous Workplace

In a period of recession and great economic uncertainty where many are worried about the stability of their jobs, keeping a healthy, positive attitude at work can become a challenge. And it can render the normal process of evaluating and criticizing colleagues work a minefield.

Some rules of thumb to keep in mind in an era of generalized anxiety:
Prepare your criticisms.
Clarify your ideas and isolate the nature of the behavior you seek to change in your colleague. Have you discussed this problem with your colleague before? What is the impact/seriousness of this behavior? When is the best moment to discuss it ?

Stick to the Facts.
It’s easy to get emotional and bring in personal elements that will make a smooth resolution of the problem far less likely. Be precise and detailed in your examples, try to avoid an accusatory demeanor and keep an open attitude inviting dialogue.

Enumerate Consequences.
The colleague should be explained the consequences of the behavior in question. For example, if Joe is consistently late with his work and this tardiness delays several of his colleagues who depend on his output, this should be made clear. Ascertain that this realization is shared.

Define the Change(s) you Expect.
Explain clearly what you want changed, in concrete terms.

While interpersonal skills are clearly required to effectively criticize and obtain behavioral modifications, other no less important interpersonal skills are necessary to effectively receive criticism. Many people become immediately defensive and cease to listen. One should listen carefully when one is being criticized, and –once the criticism has been formulated – question one’s interlocutor calmly to induce him to express exactly what is on his mind. Make sure you fully understand the criticism being addressed to you by reformulating it in your own words. Once clarified, you can take a clear stance vis-à-vis the criticism. Avoid taking criticisms personally as reproaches. Work is work – don’t get emotional over it.

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