Living With Criticism


No one wants to be criticized. Dr. William Watley, Senior Pastor of the St. Phillip African Methodist Episcopal Church observed, “Criticism’s certainly something that you can’t be delivered from…From the womb to the tomb, you can’t escape it.”

Criticism can be defined as ‘the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.’ No one can avoid criticism if they are active in an organization or serve in a leader’s capacity.

Yet, individuals can also be criticized because of lack of action. Dr. Watley argues that criticism is all that some people know how to do, which indicates to him that ”these people need to get a life.” Perhaps, actress Ava Gardner summed it up best about critics: “Hell, I suppose if you stick around long enough, they have to say something nice about you.” 

On the contrary, a Constructive Critic points out things that will assist in the personal or professional development of a person. A Petty Fault Finder can always locate some short coming in an individual that is not helpful and a fault that he or she does not have a problem with.

In fact, no matter how hard you attempt to correct a problem noted by a Petty Fault Finder, he or she will not be satisfied; a Petty Fault Finder will seek to only locate another problem in this individual’s life.

Great leaders know how to use criticism in a way that can transform an organization. Most people are unwilling to change even when it is out of necessity or survival. Richard Daft, renowned author of Management, notes that change can be problematic for organizational growth.

Employees and managers often resist change. Dr. Daft explains, “Yet most changes will encounter some degree of resistance. Idea champions often discover that other employees are unenthusiastic about their new ideas….People typically resist a change they believe conflicts with their self-interest.”[1] Most managers understand how to control and oversee their organizations.

Few managers have the innate ability to inspire their employees from mediocre to extraordinary performance. That position description requires a leader, not a status quo manager. All great leaders, from President George Washington to Albert Einstein, had their own share of criticism and a merry band of Petty Fault Finders.

Sadly, some individuals never are effective in their positions because they can never seem to manage because of fear of negative criticism. Gareth Jones and Jennifer George, authors of Contemporary Management, explained how bad leadership damages an organization: “When leaders are ineffective, chances are good that their subordinates do not perform to their capabilities, are demotivated, and may be dissatisfied as well.”[2] Consequently, it is important that leaders develop strategies for managing criticism effectively in order to move their organizations to exemplary performance. 

Please discuss criticism from your professional experience.

 © 2014 by Daryl D. Green



[1]Management by Richard Daft

[2] Contemporary Management by Gareth Jones and Jennifer George


5 thoughts on “Living With Criticism

  1. My 10 years of work experience at Pilot Flying J has exposed me to a wide variety of management types. The concept I have taken away from my experiences with these managers more than any other is the distinct difference between leading and managing. GE, between 1981 and 2001, under the leadership of CEO Jack Welch witnessed their stock price 4,000%. Jack Welch was a transformational leader that emphasized people-developing as the primary driver of success. His emphasis on retaining only individuals that could both give and receive candid feedback was foundational to his success. All companies, including Pilot Flying J, can benefit from implementing leadership-centric hiring practices.

    • I agree 100% Caleb, with Mr. Welch’s policy for maintaining his employees pertaining highly to those characteristics. It seems as though a test or some sort of personality structure should be laid out before an associate is hired, in order to exemplify exactly how well the individual can lead and take direction. Heen and Stone make a valid point, “Improving the skills of the feedback giver won’t accomplish much if the receiver isn’t able to absorb what is said. It is the receiver who controls whether feedback is let in or kept out, who has to make sense of what he or she is hearing, and who decides whether or not to change. People need to stop treating feedback only as something that must be pushed and instead improve their ability to pull”. Mr. Welch must have had a keen eye for these types of people. I believe it is essential to every day life tasks, but especially in the work environment, to hold both traits: the push and the pull.

      Heen, S., & Stone, D. (2014). Find the Coaching in Criticism. Harvard Business Review, 92(1/2), 108-111.

  2. I am one of those individuals that can take constructive criticism well. However, I have experienced team work and other instances where this posed a problem. Mostly it is tough for a first level employee to handle constructive criticism. However, it can also be that top-level managers express traits and backlash that prove to be doubting signs. Michael Rosenthal gives tips on how to give constructive criticism and coaching to managers, “Give examples and use specific data whenever possible. Once the example and data are shared, ask the supervisor how he or she understands the data and explains the example. The manager might see things differently or might have additional data that could affect the assessment and feedback.” I, myself, also learn by example and can see why this method would ease a sticky situation. Thus, I see this as great advise for gently, but effecting coaching managers.

    Rosenthal, M. (2013). Constructive criticism for managers. Training, v50(4), 64.

    • Morgan, thanks for sharing. You have put the spotlight on managers accepting criticism, and for good reason. As managers we set an example for a department or team, but we need to be careful not to let our “importance” get in the way of learning. For example, if I am spearheading a project for PFJ and I find myself navigating an inefficient path towards an objective I need to be careful not to become defensive should a subordinate correct me or suggest alternative paths. Criticism dealt appropriately is a learning experience. As managers we should recognize constructive criticism for what it is, and rather than retaliate in some negative way, we should recognize those that steer the department/team in a better direction.

    • Morgan, I couldn’t agree more with you. There can be such a fine line between constructive criticism and a flat out harsh statement. A lot of times when a certain situation is not handled correctly, instead of blowing up and accusing the employee of what they did wrong, it might be handle better if you simply ask them how they might have handled that same situation a little differently. By having the employee reflect back on the situation and maybe giving them advice will most likely help prevent these situations from occurring in the future.

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