A word about ‘Constructive Criticism”’ in the workplace

image An very long argument broke out today over a distribution list here at Microsoft over a laid-off employee’s “last parting email”.  He lashed out at various processes, technologies, traits, and even people of the company in a manner that can only be described as ‘unfiltered’.

Now I’m all for feedback & criticism, but this individual’s email brought to light, through discussion, some rather interesting, and IMHO, important lessons about communicating & working with others in the workplace.  I thought I’d summarize some of what was articulated based on a massively long mail thread that was written because I know I personally learned a lot.

  • CRITICISM SHOULD BE ACTIONABLE & CONSTRUCTIVE… NOT JUST A RANT
    Ranting does not make things better.  People rant to allow themselves to vent which may be personally satisfying but it does nothing to fix a problem.  People that truly want to be an”agent of change” submit constructive criticism that shows a clear link to what action is needed (actionable) and demonstrates how exactly to make something better. (constructive)
  • CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM DOES NOT EQUATE TO SUGARCOATING
    Being constructive in one’s criticism doesn’t mean they have to spin things in a positive light, but rather focuses on how to really improve something.  With one’s constructive comments, the recipient should be able to take that feedback and make a clear decision on how to improve that something.
  • EMOTION-DRIVEN OPINION IS RARELY UNIVERSAL FACT
    What may seem obvious “objective fact” to you, is more often than not simply a personal preference and a “subjective opinion”.  Emotion often blinds individuals to the fact that others may see things completely differently based on their personal work habits or valuable experience… experience that you, very often, do not have.
  • MUTUAL RESPECT IN A WORK ENVIRONMENT TRUMPS YOUR RIGHT TO COMPLAIN
    Everyone has the right to complain however the moment someone feels that they are being treated disrespectfully by said complainer, the game’s over.  Mutual respect is of utmost importance to maintaining a harmonious work environment and in fact, making individuals feel respected is often a great tool to working better & solving challenges.
  • PERSISTENCE IS THE KEY TO IMPROVEMENT & IMPROVEMENT IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS
    Individuals that throw their arms up in defeat have ideas and beliefs that are lost to history.  Meanwhile those that persevere with passion, conviction, and don’t lose heart are the individuals that change the world.
  • CREATING “US” vs" “THEM” DICHOTOMIES IN THE WORKPLACE IS A DANGEROUS PATH
    Very often people find themselves referring to another organization or a management layer as “them” relative to “us”.  I know that, to this day, I personally do this occasionally.  This is a no-win trap because in the end, there is no “us” or “them:  There is only “us”.  And the success or failure of the company is dependent only on “us”.  There is ultimately no ‘win’ if anyone fails.
  • CONSENSUS REQUIRES COMMUNICATION & COMMUNICATION REQUIRES WORK
    If you’re positive that your ideas are ‘better’, yet no one who has heard your ideas agreed, the only person you have to blame is ultimately yourself because you failed to communicate your ideas clearly with relevant rationales.  When people argue with you, it’s often because they’re not clear about what you’re articulating.  Other times, it’s not because they don’t agree with you, but rather they’re simply testing the strength of your ideas.  Some people do flat out disagree with you, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t open to having their minds changed.  Some may even indicate ways you can improve your arguments whereas you might misinterpret this as ‘not getting it’.
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