A CEO’s Guide To Giving And Receiving Criticism

When we work in any environment, we’re prone to giving and receiving different criticism that can either be positive or negative, resulting in making a person grow and become better or putting them down. While this may not seem like much of a big deal most of the time coming from colleagues, it becomes a big deal when it comes to the CEO. As a CEO your job gets complex; you have to give out criticism to your employees ensuring to balance getting the point across while also being constructive and you also need to accept the criticism you get without having to make it personal or lashing out at the other person.

This responsibility to always keeping your cool in the face of criticism can get overwhelming, hence I’m going to share my guide on what you should do either while giving or receiving criticism in your career.

Giving criticism:

Being a CEO, your responsibility first lies in managing your employees. And part of this management may require you to give certain levels of criticism more often than not to assure the maintenance of quality in your company’s workings. But how can you do it without hurting the other person’s sentiments? That is a tricky question to tackle. Here’s what you can do.

1) Don’t let it get personal, ever!

As a CEO, you must know your team members better than anyone else, especially if they’ve been under your supervision for quite some time or you interviewed and hired them. When you know your team, you must know their strengths and weaknesses. But when you’re providing criticism on any of their work, make sure you don’t let it get personal and attack them regarding their weaknesses.

If you have any personal issues with the said employee, you can’t let that get in the middle of working with them in a professional setting. Making personal and professional lives collide doesn’t just create conflict in the workplace but also your private life matters. Take an objective approach when criticizing so that your employee knows that when it comes to it, your only priority is work being done properly and you’re not doing this for the sake of being petty.

2) Choose the right time

Another responsibility for you to carry out during criticizing is to know that this is the time to do it. If the person you’re criticizing has been going through a lot of problems in their personal lives recently and hence fallen behind on work because of those problems, your immediate responsibility lies in being a human being rather than a boss. Give the person time to get back on track, let them have some space, let them take a brief break, after which they might feel better continuing with the work you ask for. This doesn’t just make the other person feel accepted, it also makes them trust you to have their backs when they face any trouble.

3) Tone it Down – Add Some Humor if Needed

It’s true that some forms of criticism require you to be blunt and a little strict too, but remember not to do that every single time. Every form of ‘intervention’ doesn’t require you to be too serious. Try to tone it down if possible, use humor to get your point across if possible. Make the other person feel at ease before letting them know the issue. If they argue or become too defensive, then you should be capable of handling them properly and strictly. But if they’re willing to listen to your criticism, don’t be unnecessarily rude.

4) Know your facts

Another thing to be wary of is to ensure you’re criticizing the right person on the right thing. Be objective in how you deal with office conflicts and problems. And make sure you know all the facts before getting into a heated discussion on who did what and who should be accountable. A good CEO tries saving their team from taking the blame no matter what, and that’s the practice you should adopt as well to make your team thrive.

If the client is at fault, tell them. If one team member’s actions made the entire team suffer, talk with them in private. Know the facts and make a plan on how you’re going to deal with the issue according to the information you have. If you don’t learn the facts before getting into the critical role, you’ll appear inauthentic or even subjective and prejudiced as people will think you’re taking accountability away from the one who is responsible for the blunder.

5) Know when to let it go

Perhaps one of the biggest things to remember when it comes to being a CEO is that you can not hold grudges. You can’t let year old conflicts affect how you make managerial decisions. Learn to trust your employees to make the right changes after you’ve given them your critical overview. If you keep holding on to the thought of that one time your employees made a mistake and you never hand them any responsibility again, this won’t only affect their confidence levels but also put a stop to productive growth at your workplace. Learn to let go of conflicts and arguments, give people the room to learn and grow and make your overall culture one that supports rather than one that brings people down.

Receiving Criticism:

As a CEO, you’re prone to receive more criticism than the amount of criticism you provide to others. Because even if you trust your skills as a CEO, there is always room for mistakes and there’s always a possibility of not being aware of the mistake you made. Although more often than not, this criticism can seem unfair. But even here, as a managerial head, you have a responsibility to tackle this calmly and productively, even when it doesn’t seem okay to you! Below, I’ve pointed out a few things you can do.

1) Think Before Responding

Whenever you receive criticism from anyone, may it be a client, an employee, or even an external party, think about what they’re saying. Reflect on your behavior and how you’ve been doing things and think whether they’re right. Even if they’re not right, you don’t have to get defensive or lash out at them for being wrong. You don’t have to internalize the criticism you get, you just need to think about the things being said and learn from them to grow and become better.

Maybe they’re saying something from a perspective you’ve never thought of before, or maybe they have a good reason for saying what they say. Just give it some thought and bring in any change necessary.

2) Be a Good Listener

One of the foremost responsibilities of anyone working in a team, especially as a CEO, is to be a good listener to hear the team’s concerns and issues and come up with ways to tackle those issues. And the same rule applies to when you receive criticism; listen to the other person and figure out the reason they’re criticizing you. Maybe you’ve been too busy to focus on important tasks that the team has been expecting of you, maybe they’re facing trouble that requires your 100% time and attention and you’re not providing it.

I described a pointer in the above section of giving criticism, that you should know all the facts before you dive into the role of a strict CEO, and the same thing comes into focus when you receive criticism. Listen to the person criticizing you, know the facts of why they’re saying what they’re saying. Don’t avoid the criticism you’re getting only because it seems wrong to you. Be a good listener and figure out what they’re saying and if it’s a misunderstanding, then why it has happened.

3) Show Acceptability

That you’re a CEO doesn’t automatically imply you’re invincible. Even now you’re just as capable of making mistakes the way you were before you got to this position. Accept the criticism you get from others, tell them you’re going to make the necessary changes that you should, and show them by making those changes and becoming better in how you do things. At times, you do something that seems perfect in your eyes, but the party that criticizes you may not think the same because both of your perspectives and experiences, and goals differ. If that’s the case, listen to their point of view and accept that you may not have considered things this way and you’re going to come up with a middle-ground.

You won’t get far as a CEO unless you take accountability, and not just for your actions but also for your team’s. Taking an acceptable approach in front of criticism leads to avoiding needless conflict and also makes you grow as a person. This doesn’t mean you always have to take the blame for things that aren’t even in your scope, it just means taking responsibility when it matters the most and can save you and your team a lot of trouble.

4) Focus On the Criticism & Not the Critic

When you follow all the above-given advice on how you should receive criticism, you’ll automatically realize that your priority shouldn’t be on the person who is criticizing you, rather it should be on what they’re saying in that criticism. When you listen to what they’re saying and think from an objective point of view, you’ll start working on what you can learn from it and how you can apply that learning in your life. If you keep focusing on the person who’s criticizing you, you’ll hold an unnecessary grudge and instead of taking a growth and learning approach, you’ll stress yourself out and end up harming the team.

If you’re doing your job well and the criticism is unnecessary, then you can still always keep it in mind to avoid giving your critics a reason to say ‘I told you so’. And if you’re really at fault, then what better growth opportunity than this?

5) Thank the Critic

Be grateful to the people who criticize you. This criticism made you grow and reach the position of a CEO. And this criticism is what will take you forward to more success for you and your company. Always think of critics as a building block on your career path rather than a hindrance. You don’t have to take unnecessary criticism for anything, but you can always accept it, make a note of it, and remind yourself of it to grow and become better than your competition.

One thing that you always should remember and should also teach your employees about is to always take criticism as a positive thing that makes you grow. Success is something all of us thrive for, either as a subordinate or as a CEO. And to achieve that success, we have to learn to deal with the criticism we receive along the way. Being a CEO you have a bigger responsibility than you realize, and you’ll get to understand this point in a new light every time you’ve to deal with criticism, either while giving it or receiving it. Just make sure you’re giving criticism that’s constructive and leads to the growth and development of the other person, and make sure the criticism you receive doesn’t adversely affect the work you’re doing.

Safeer E Hussain

Safeer has a strong background in entrepreneurship, strategy, management. He is an expert in creating and utilizing digital collateral that produces growth results. Skilled in Team Building, Operations Management, Leadership, Consulting & Training.

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