Right criticism

THE OTHER day, I walked into a big business enterprise in the city and was an unwilling witness to a disturbing scene. The manager was berating one of the employees loudly and vehemently. All the customers were turning around, looking and feeling sorry for the poor employee. It was apparent that the employee was deeply embarrassed and was becoming defiant by the minute to protect his self-esteem. The scene was beginning to turn ugly and a few of the customers, including myself, made a quick beeline for the door and left the premises.

This sort of public display of criticism is bad judgment at best and bad for business at worst. Does that mean, it is okay if done in private? Not really. The damage something like this can cause is tenfold over whatever the employee did or didn't do.

Criticisms can take many forms, from a mild displeasure to outright deliberate and insensitive outburst. In the above scenario, whatever the employee was guilty of, the empathy of the people was definitely with him and created a poor impression about the organisation and its management.

It does not take a genius to figure out that in such places, employee morale becomes the casualty. When they are not respected, they, in turn, will not respect the management either. Then, where is the team spirit? Where is the leader? What about loss of sales and goodwill from customers who left, some never to come back?

Criticisms come out very quickly and easily, with no effort whatsoever, unlike a compliment. The "way" something is said can cause more harm than the expected correct behaviour. This is true both in the business world and in personal relationships.

Delivering a criticism requires tact and diplomacy. Making personal negative remarks are counterproductive and create non-cooperation and hostility. The purpose of criticism is to improve matters and not choke it.

Make absolutely sure that you are talking to the person in private, not in front of customers, peers and other employees. Everyone has self-esteem and you never do anything to make a person "lose face". It is also quite unfortunate that many people follow the blind rule of — lower the rank, harsher the attack.

Focus your comments on the issue and not the person. For example, "when I add up the total, it comes out different" as opposed to "you are wrong or how could you be so stupid" and embellishing it further with choice words on one's intelligence, effort, interest, etc. That becomes very personal and acrimonious and you still have not resolved the issue of discrepancy.

A tactful way of pointing out a mistake is to revert it back to yourself. For example, "I am sorry, maybe I didn't make it clearer" and not "you messed it up completely, you didn't understand, did you?" This makes the other person defensive and go on to an explanation/ excuse mode. Again, the issue at hand is not resolved.

It is also a good idea to check that you communicated the instructions with clarity and simplicity. If needed, ask the person to repeat back the instructions given, to make sure it is understood.

For those of you who are always short-tempered and sharp tongued, take a deep breath, and lighten up! Clement Stones once said, "There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a BIG difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative."