C is for criticism. C is for challenge.

As a team member, as a manager and as a person, we may all hear criticisms of our work, our actions, our speech, our habits … the fundamentals that form who we are. Such criticism is often hard to hear. Partly because it is uncomfortable to be confronted by our imperfections and, I believe, partly because the truth is recognizable and and not always so welcome to hear.

In a recent PBS documentary on Bill Clinton, he is shown paraphrasing a line from Ben Franklin. Clinton’s quote is “Our critics are our friends, they show us our faults.” The original quote is from Poor Richard’s Almanac (1756); “Love your Enemies, for they tell you your Faults.”

Although often hard to hear, the criticism we receive is the gift of our peers, collegues and managers to us all. Only by facing our imperfections, can we hope to manage our difficulities while we perform with our strengths.

Our challenge, as a great manager or team member, is to deliver criticism in the most productive, constructive manner. The goal is improved performance and greater success. Criticism for its own sake is simply empty, fruitless and unhappy.

How to do this?

As you’ll see in many of my posts on management, I believe that helping our team members be more successful is rooted in understanding the relationship between strengths and challenges (our imperfections).

What is a great strength can often manifest a mirror image of a great challenge.

Consider multi-tasking; the ability to keep our attention on many things at once, ready at a moment’s notice to spring into action if some aspect of many factors begins to go astray. A person with great multi-tasking ability uses their mind to flit from one circumstance to another; hopping around from area to area, constantly pulled along from one item to the next.

The mirror image challenge is staying focused.

If a team member has difficulty staying focused, how can the critique of that challange best be delivered in a way that will be heard and openly considered?

I believe that remembering that challenges are rooted in strengths points the way.

Begin by recognizing the strength.If your team member is great at multi-tasking, say so! Make it clear how that value manifests to help the team accomplish its objectives.

When mentioning the challenge of staying focused, look for ways to draw out possible opportunities to manage that challenge. Perhaps when focus is required, the team member needs some time in a quiet environment or some other way of reducing distractions; possibly turning off the phone ringer, shutting down the instant messaging client or making a list of the priority items that require focus at this time. The manager doesn’t need to be an expert in this area, much of the ideas may come from your team member themselves. The key thing is to recognize the particular challenge and set out in deliberate fashion to manage that challenge.

As a manger, are you assigning work to your team member that plays to their strengths? Assigning work that forces your team member into an area of challenge is only setting up the situation for less than optimum results.

In many years of interacting with human beings in organizations, I’ve yet to meet anyone who has no challenges. Hopefully, they are performing work that draws to their strengths and manage their challenges so that the challenges don’t become performance issues.

It doesn’t hurt to sandwich your discussions of performance; what is going well, challenges to manage and emphasizing positive contributions.

Just because someone has one challenge (or more) is not a reason not to thank them for their positive contributions.

We can show our team members appreciation while at the same time helping them help themselves by looking for ways to manage challenge.

And… if the criticism is coming your way, try to embrace it as a gift to help you see your own performance and find ways to manage your own challenges.

“O would some Power the gift to give us To see ourselves as others see us! It would from many a blunder free us…”
– Robert Burns (1759-1796, – Scottish poet and lyricist)