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The Myth of "Constructive Criticism"

There's no such thing as constructive criticism. Constructive feedback? Yes. And in the field of positive psychology which is greatly missing in the world of business, feedback is huge. It affirms individuals and compliments them on what they've done well. But it also provides an opportunity to ask them what they'd like to do better, and agree on what that looks like as they are helped with unlocking and unleashing their true potential.

When you provide illustrations, share stories and cast light on good behaviors, habits and results, you help people see and believe what they are capable of doing and accomplishing. On the other hand, continually pointing out their faults and lack of skill, what they are not doing, or not doing well, causes frustration and is demoralizing to even the most self-confident person. In my recent work with a Human Resources director of a global company, I quickly discerned that she was falling prey to the emotional setbacks that come from extreme amounts of constructive criticism. She was certainly capable of doing great work, and was hired based on her track record; but her ability to succeed was waning due to the emotional toll of criticism from her Vice President. This leader believed she was doing my client a favor by continuously providing her with "constructive feedback." The problem was exacerbated by her failing to provide positive reinforcement. It affected my client so much that she developed and aversion and dreaded interacting with her Vice President.

Over the course of several months, my client tactfully conveyed to her boss the benefits of positive communication as a means of improving morale and employee performance. Evidently, the message was either not understood or embraced as necessary for creating better work experiences and outcomes. My client chose to wait no longer. She quit. For a positive and healthier leadership style and organizational culture. Toxic cultures and loss of talent are just a few of the consequences companies suffer on account of too much constructive criticism and not enough constructive feedback. And the fallout can be costly. This doesn't mean that as a leader you shouldn’t tell your team members how to improve. But focusing less on the challenges and more on the opportunities will spare you and your organization from large losses of talent, engagement and ultimately profit. Whether it's with direct reports or with your peers or managers, leaders benefit from developing the habit of affirming others and being curators of good stories that can be used to make positive points. Storytelling that incorporates third party examples, illustrations, and case studies, is a wonderful approach for showcasing desirable behaviors. It makes human connection and relationships stronger and empowers the individual listener and observer to reach for even higher heights. Making the shift to looking for good instead of highlighting what is not good, creates a positive culture that perpetuates striving to be better by all involved. People feel valued and then naturally strive to improve.

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