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Wanted: Constructive Criticism

Wanted: Constructive Criticism

In business and in life, most people want praise.  Some people ask for constructive criticism, but really want praise instead – the request for criticism is a smokescreen.  If you have ever been asked for constructive criticism and ended up in an argument – that is what happened.  The person making the request for criticism really just wanted to be praised.

Here is an outrageous suggestion:  Develop a stronger stomach for real and truly constructive criticism and you can advance your career.  How else can you learn what to do better?  How else could you improve?

Think about how factories work.  The established metric for everything is perfection: 100% on-time delivery, zero defects, everything on-budget.  Anything less is an exception.  Most factories have visual boards up in all working areas to note how well each cell or section has done on achieving perfection.  Factory managers work to exceptions.  What is not on time, how many defects, what caused an overrun?  They examine the cause of the exception, seek new ways and best practices to correct the cause, implement the change, and keenly observe the result, to see if improvement really happened.  If not, they go back and do the corrective process again!  And this is done dozens of times a day in many factories, in each cell or section.  Red marks on charts have to turn green or yellow as soon as possible.

Why can’t people as individuals work at least as well as a factory in striving for perfection, or at the very least, for continuous improvement?  Simple: We do not want to know.  Yes, there are corporate 360 programs, reviews, etc., but do they really give us the truth?  Not often enough.

In personal relationships, where there is a certain elevated level of intimacy, people take risks and can be more candid with one another. If you are lucky, and have kind and loving people around you, constructive criticism is delivered in a gentle, painless way, and you can actually act on it.

In business, people are more sensitive to negativity – the hairs on the back of our neck stand up when we perceive that criticism is in the air.  As well, we are taught from the time we enter business to be careful what we say, do not offend, do not make enemies, tiptoe around issues, observe politeness protocols, etc.  We would rather avoid pain – we do not want to deliver it; we do not want to receive it.  How unproductive, right?

Imagine a world where we could ask for real and constructive criticism – how to do what we do better – receive meaningful input, and then take action to improve.  Now, create that world for yourself.  Who do you trust?  Go first to those people and experiment.  Tell your trusted colleague that you are embarking on a continuous improvement program for yourself.  You do not want complaints.  You do not want to hear about things you cannot control or act upon, but you DO want to know the things over which you could exercise control – the areas where you really could change.  Take a stomach acid pill if you need it, and just listen.  You might get ideas that could be transformative.  Lessons will be repeated until learned, so let’s figure out how to learn them quickly, and move on.