Criticism Leads to a Vicious Cycle

May 30, 2012

Criticism bites!

When an employee makes a poor decision, you may be tempted to criticize–especially if there’s a pattern of poor decision making. You want to stop the pattern, after all. When the employee fails again, you criticize more or harder. You feel like you’re not being heard or you’re being openly defied. You feel like you’re being attacked.

Naturally, the receiver of the criticism also feel attacked. Criticism can have an almost toxic effect on the body. It rarely generates improved performance. More often, it leads to worse performance, motivation, and engagement.


Vicious Cycle of Criticism

  1. The leader repeatedly criticizes or blames an employee for a particular decision, behavior, or performance.
  2. The employee may accept some responsibility for a particular outcome, but feels undeserving of the amount or degree of criticism. The employee takes on a victim mentality, leading to resistance to change, expectations of further abuse, and feelings of righteousness.
  3. In order to avoid criticism, the employee may delay or fail to report problems in the future.
  4. The employee’s delay or failure to report problems incites the leader to criticize more, which leads to even worse employee performance, motivation, and engagement.

Criticism Kills while Feedback Builds

It is certainly necessary to provide constructive feedback to your employees. You do not have to be mean, however, to help others understand that what they have done has not been effective or efficient. Rather than level criticism, ask the employee to evaluate his or her work and propose a solution for the future. It is amazing how insightful people can be about their own work, especially if the objectives or goals are clear and they don’t feel attacked.

Can you share a story where you have seen the cycle of criticism show up in an organization?

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