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Working around workplace criticism


According to an article recently published by BBC News, when Sir Richard Branson was a child, anytime he said something nasty about someone else,
his parents would make him stand in front of a mirror and stare at himself for a full five minutes. He was meant to spend this time contemplating the criticism he had dealt out, and seeing this wasn’t much fun, he supposedly stopped ever criticising anyone. The BBC News article reports that he carried this practise over into his leadership style in his businesses. I can vouch for the fact that this isn’t 100% true all of the time.

Every human being has a set of values that he or she lives according to – the things that the person values most. When we feel we are fulfilling our highest values, the higher parts of our brains come into play. We are able to self-govern and to function at a high level. If, however, we are not engaged, we are likely to use the lower regions of our brain – specifically the amygdala. This is responsible for the fight or flight mechanism. When we operate out of this brain area, we become vulnerable to impulse and lose our ability to self-govern.

When a leader – like Sir Richard Branson – is inspired, the probability is higher of sustaining a non-critical response. Criticism is in essence an autocratic projection of our own values on to others. Criticism is a normal response when we feel we are not living out and being fulfilled by our prioritised values.

A leader is responsible for hiring employees who will be able to live out their values in the job positions. Those are the people who want to work and want to be productive. If employees fall into this category, there will be less and in some cases no need for criticism. That’s why I recommend a value determination process as a core part of the hiring process.

If you’re a leader and you find you have someone who has slipped through the cracks and who isn’t inspired at work or working well, the way to deal with the situation is to find objective data to measure the person’s performance against. Steer clear of subjective feelings that can lead to criticism and emotional outbursts. Put KPIs and metrics in place. Prioritise the economic return elements of the person’s job description. Measure their productivity against these and work with them to help them achieve progress against their targets. It then becomes a facts-based, objective assessment, rather than an emotional and critical one.

Remember that when you are not empowered, you are overpowered; when you are not self-governed, you will be bullied. If you are criticised by your boss, remind yourself that the key to overcoming and avoiding criticism is to empower yourself and to become indispensable in your workplace. Put yourself in the driver’s seat. Go to your boss and say, “I want to be able to do the most that I can for this company, Please help me to understand what I can do that will yield the highest priority returns.”

When you are criticised, humble yourself. If you get cocky, you will only find yourself put down more. Start a dialogue with your boss to understand where the criticism is coming from. Ask “What am I doing specifically that makes you unfulfilled and how can I fill your need?”

Go even deeper by asking yourself how you can get the most out of the criticism. It might help you to see where you need to continue to educate or up-skill yourself, it might push you to start your own business, or it might prompt you to look for another job where you can live out your values.

Dr John Demartini is a human behaviourist, author and teacher, www.drdemartini.com.

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