Replace Criticism with Critique: Part One

CritiqueEvery leader faces the dilemma of how to motivate others to do their best, while correcting them when they don’t.  Just this week the news coverage of the Ebola health crisis gave us the sensationalized story of this duality. We read stories of politicians who publicly praise their staff, and then deliver scathing scolding in private meetings and leaked memos. Such stories resonant with us because they mirror what happens in our workplaces. Staff who experience this oscillating between the “carrot and the stick” quickly become cynical and mistrustful.

The leaders I coach are keen to find a new and productive way. Most, like you, are time-crunched.  In the midst of their crazy days, they end up barking orders and fixing errors simply to dodge bullets. They wonder how to improve the quality of the work without destroying morale. And how to do that quickly.

One of the fastest ways to change our behaviour is to reframe the way in which we view the world. A different lens can open up our options. In the case of giving corrective feedback, I suggest you reframe your criticism as critique. This is not merely semantics. Let’s look at the difference.

Both criticism and critique require critical thinking. Both have an element of drawing attention to what is missing. The main difference is the impact on the receiver. When someone is criticized, they feel it personally and experience negative emotions like embarrassment, shame, anger and frustration. Their ability to take-in the information and learn from it is compromised. Often, after receiving work criticism from a boss, people feel unable to make their next move. The criticism has so eroded their self-confidence that they just give up.

Now, imagine that you have written a novel, concocted a new formula, or designed a working prototype. By chance, another writer, scientist, or engineer who you respect and admire, offers to have a look.  They have offered to critique your work, not to save the organization but because they respect you and they assume you want to produce the best quality possible. This professional appraiser wants to develop your talent and share their insights and wisdom. They don’t want to take-over or own your work, they want to partner with you in making it better. And of course, they recognize the mutual respect and feel honoured to be asked to critique your work.

Next blog will describe how to critique effectively.

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