If a subordinate makes a mistake do you always point it out? How do you deal with someone who reacts badly to criticism? Do you continue to criticize? Do you address the person’s hypersensitivity? Or do you step back?
The fact is, the best answer depends completely on the person being criticized. If the person is not particularly sensitive to criticism, and takes feedback well, then go ahead and say what you want to – unless of course you are an obsessive nutcase who can never be pleased, in which case, take a pill and keep it to yourself. If the person is sensitive but does a lousy job, then you may have to deal with his or her sensitivity first and focus on specifics later. But there are some people who are good at what they do. They may react badly to criticism, but even if nothing changes they can be counted on to perform well. For these types, it may be best to let them be. If we become too obsessed with perfection we will only lose them.
Here is something I published last week on the importance of considering the mindset of the receiver when delivering feedback. We are not all created equally. If we treat everyone the same way, the results may not be as good as when we make adjustments for the person to whom we are speaking.
Run to first, Timmy
(Source: Cours au premier but, Tom. Journal Métro, June 28, 2011)
I used to love coaching little kids in T-Ball. The five-year olds were particularly fun. I remember the time I carefully put a reassuring hand on a little boy’s shoulder and said, “OK, now when you hit the ball don’t run after it. You have to run to first base over there.” I then pointed to first base.
“Show me where you are going to run after you hit the ball,” I asked, and little Timmy shyly pointed to first. “Perfect,” I said, “Now give it your best!”
Sure enough, just like every other first time T-Baller, Timmy hit the ball and ran right after it. I then called time and went out to the middle of the infield and put my arm around Timmy’s shoulder again. “OK, that was good but remember where I told you to run? To first base, remember.” That’s when Timmy started crying!
No matter how gentle I or any other coach was with kids of that age, they all reacted strongly when minor mistakes were pointed out.
Little children are like that. They are extremely sensitive to criticism. Nothing new there. But what do we make of adults who are easily hurt by criticism?
A sensitive adult
Recently two business associates had an employee who wanted to quit. The associates both agree she is an exemplary employee who does the work of three people. The reason she wanted to quit was because one of the associates pointed out a minor mistake she had made with an order. She was told the mistake was important and must not be repeated.
The associate did what she felt was normal. She simply pointed out a mistake and took corrective action. The employee, on the other hand, felt her work was not appreciated and that she was accused of incompetence. This was the farthest thing from the employer’s mind but that’s how it was perceived.
I told the associate my Little Timmy story. I did so because when delivering a message we must consider the receiver of our message. Even when it seems simple and clear to us, the message may be lost after it gets filtered through the insecurities of the person hearing it.
Many great employees are valuable because they constantly question themselves and strive to please. Ironically, despite their inherent value, they often see themselves as inadequate. Nevertheless, a good but hypersensitive employee is far more valuable than a bad but self-assured one. This is why it may not be necessary to point out every little imperfection in the people we appreciate.
04 Jul 2011