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The Right Way to Receive Criticism if You’re a Leader

By , September 5, 2019

When your employees don’t feel free to speak their mind when they perceive a problem, that concern doesn’t magically go away.

A business owner once told me she had to let go of an employee for creating a toxic work environment. This employee had been sharing personal complaints about the owner with coworkers, rather than bringing them up directly with her. It soon became popular to talk behind the owner’s back, and before long, the circulating negativity caused a rift between her and the team. Obviously, morale and productivity suffered greatly.

Was this employee a liability? Definitely. But there’s also more to the picture. It’s possible that this business owner created an environment that discouraged people from speaking their mind productively.

Here’s the real problem: When your employees don’t feel free to speak their mind when they perceive a problem, that concern doesn’t magically go away—it weighs on their heart and will express itself in less constructive ways. Even if they don’t gossip with coworkers, their own motivation and productivity will be affected. And low morale is, unfortunately, often contagious.

Hearing criticism is one of the hardest things to do, especially when it is coming from your employees, the very people that you are supposed to lead. But there are powerful benefits from encouraging and welcoming constructive, respectful feedback. Having those important conversations helps you get to the underlying issues that might be preventing your growth. When all your team members feel encouraged to put their opinions out there, you will forge deeper relationships, become more efficient, and learn to work better as a team.

At Ptex Group, we call this “true courage.” It’s one of the core values of our company, and here’s how we describe it: “It takes integrity and courage to speak up when what you’d much rather do is shut up. Tactfully, mindfully, and respectfully, we speak our minds and keep the lines of communication flowing. With honesty and transparency, we speak up, lift each other up, and help each other grow.”

Here are three Ptex Practical Pointers for creating a culture where true courage is the rule, not the exception:

1. When you’re criticized, pause before reacting.

It’s human nature to immediately get defensive when someone criticizes us. But before reacting, it’s important to pause, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that the criticism isn’t a personal attack.

2. Ask detailed questions.

Hearing criticism is often hard, but it is a crucial learning opportunity. To truly grow from the experience, be sure to ask whoever is giving feedback for specific examples of what went wrong or what bothered them. Also, ask for their concrete ideas on how to improve the situation.

3. Show appreciation.

Always say thank you when someone gives you feedback. Let the person know that it was taken to heart and that positive change will be made in the future. It can be difficult to do this, but it will tell employees that you can take criticism with grace.

We all have blind spots that impact the way we interact with others. Unfiltered feedback is not always easy to hear, but a good leader takes more than their fair share of the blame and less than their fair share of the credit. If you create a workplace environment of “true courage” and make sure your team feels comfortable speaking their minds, I promise you that it will breathe new life into your workplace.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please comment and let me know! I am sincerely interested in hearing and learning from you.

Meny Hoffman

Meny Hoffman is the Chief Executive Officer of Ptex Group, an Inc. 500/5000-ranked marketing and business services firm headquartered in Brooklyn, NY.

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