Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Criticism and Judgement How and Why

Last week I got a thoughtful article from The New York Times via Twitter, Giving Feedback That Works.  It was aimed at business people who evaluate and give feedback to their underlings.  The writer, Tony Schwartz, did a great job of highlighting the concerns about the vulnerability of the recipient as well as the idea of whether the employee goes into fight or flight mode, and finally how the focus of the feedback views the criticism. He also explained how an evaluator can overcome these obstacles.  As a teacher and a coach, I tell my students and players that my job is to judge them and help them get better, which is one place where this excellent article fell short.
Schwartz wrote about how criticism can make people feel vulnerable as they're being told of the their shortcomings and how this may make them either push back against the critique or move away from it, fight or flight.  He also wrote of the perhaps diametrically opposed viewpoint of the employee toward the judgement being handed down upon them.  All of these hurdles can be taken down by thoughtful evaluators.
However, one main issue that wasn't addressed was the motivation behind the judgement and criticism and that is to help the recipient get better.  If both the judge and judged agree and trust in the idea that the goal is improved performance, many of Schwartz' issues can be easily overcome.  However, the evaluator needs to make sure that the employee or student or player never forgets that improvement is always the goal and that individual betterment will help the business, class, or team as well as the individual.
In the end, is the goal improvement?  If so, we need to make sure that the employee, student, or player knows that first and foremost upfront.  This takes consistent and regular effort toward building a positive relationship between the boss and employee, teacher and student, player and coach.  We also need to make sure that the recipient is clear that both parties know that criticism is hard to receive, but that both parties are invested in helping the person get better and moving beyond the criticism.  Finally, we need to make sure that both parties see the issue from as close to the same perspective as possible.  If that's the case, then the critique is much more likely to be received in the best possible attitude for improvement and that's why we're making the judgement and giving the feedback in the first place, right?  We can work our way through the minefield of obstacles in the effort to give feedback and help the employee, student, or player get better, which in the end is everybody's goal.

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