If you have been in a leadership position for any length of time, you have probably noticed that rarely will a week go by without a direct report complaining about some workplace issue. It may be about the assigned work, coworkers, customers, or even you. Moreover, almost any positive event holds the hidden potential of becoming a compliant if mixed with a sufficient amount of envy. A mentor early in my career would describe employees walking around the office for no apparent reason as “looking for something that might be complained about.”
Most of us know the feeling of having criticism coming from above and below as it seems to drain the life out of us. This “getting it from both sides” may very well be one of the main reasons for why leaders lose their will to lead. In a short period, the criticism becomes a source of anxiety, stress, and even hopelessness. When someone cannot be pleased, we eventually give up on pleasing him or her. Margaret Thatcher summed it up perfectly when she said: ”If my critics saw me walking over the Thames they would say it was because I couldn’t swim.”
So, what can we do?
Accept that criticism is part of the role
Like any position and especially those with authority, part of your role is listening to and address the criticism directed at you and your organization. Like it or not, customers, subordinates, and mangers are going to come to us to simply complain, manipulate situations, as well as have issues resolved.
As strange as it sounds, you should thank the person for bringing the issue to your attention. The very act of communicating holds a variety of positive elements. Although most of us ask for feedback with the hope of not receiving any, communication is at the heart of our jobs. By thanking those with a criticism, we demonstrate our openness and commitment to mutual success.
There is nothing easy about criticism. It will never feel comfortable or good, not matter how it is approached. However, to the best of our ability, we should weigh the comments of others and determine if improvement can be made and the associated benefits. We live in age of universal blame and denial of accountability. Through reflection, we stand the chance to grow, personally and professionally.
If you are in a position that draws a lot of criticism, you need to ensure that the negative nature of criticism remains separate from you, personally. You need to take breaks and focus on solutions. Just as it takes time for most of us to become accustomed to conflict, it takes a while to accept that criticism is an inherent element of relationships.
Criticism is uncomfortable, yet sometimes it is necessary for improved performance, professional growth, and better relationships.