Giving and Receiving Criticism in a Meaningful Way

Giving and Receiving Criticism in a Meaningful Way 24.01.2018 - The word criticism has a very negative meaning for many people. This is why in project management and also in the professional environment people frequently prefer to talk about feedback.

However, regardless of what it is called criticism and feedback are important if progress is going to be made and if people are going to work together in a purposeful way. Project managers are therefore trained to give and receive criticism. This should be both positive and negative. The ability and the willingness to hear and understand criticism and then put any feedback into practice is of the utmost importance for project management. Many people find it difficult to give negative criticism. A great many people find it just as difficult to accept negative criticism. This is why this subject is very important for managers who have to deal with criticism. They must learn to give criticism in a well balanced and constructive way.

Giving feedback the right way

One of the key principles that should be applied when giving criticism is that it should always be constructive. Criticism needs to be specific and should relate to concrete situations and patterns of behaviour. In terms of criticism that is given in a general sense, there should be no change in behaviour whether the criticism is positive or negative. When a type of behaviour is criticised, the criticism should always relate specifically to this behaviour and should never be personal. Issuing accusations is not effective at any rate. Furthermore, the project manager must always keep a cool head during heated discussions or feedback sessions and should never resort to unprofessional behaviour. Criticism should always be structured in such a way that it does not lead to annoyance, frustration or even outright conflict. Criticism should include concrete suggestions for improvements which encourage the person being criticised to give these suggestions a chance in the future. Always stick to the facts!

Accepting and acting on criticism

There is always someone on the receiving end of criticism. Criticism should always be received in a calm and objective way. Emotions should not play a part during dialogue that involves criticism. If criticism is appropriate and objective, then you should react to it in a similar fashion. Draw conclusions, seek help and advice, or try to instigate changes. The main and equally biggest problems that arise when receiving criticism concern our own egos and emotions. As professional project managers, it is necessary to avoid getting carried away by emotion, to avoid rejecting criticism or feeling the need to completely refute it or argue against it. Justifications and excuses are not appropriate. Listen to everything calmly, ask questions and give yourself time to decide whether it is justified and what should be put into effect. People who engage with this process can often acquire valuable insights about themselves.

Criticism concepts and criticism training

Modern feedback concepts have been put in place in many companies. It is therefore at least theoretically possible for employees to evaluate their bosses. The purpose of these concepts is to ensure that all ideas and suggestions for improvements are actually heard so that the best ones can then be implemented. In modern working structures of this kind and in project groups it is also especially important that criticism is dealt with objectively – from all perspectives. Competence in giving criticism can be taught. Many different aspects of this subject are examined in training courses and workshops. The focus is on giving structured and constructive feedback. This mainly means ensuring that criticism is formulated in a way so that it is received as feedback and not as an attack. Criticism should not induce defensive behaviour. At the same time, course attendees are trained to listen to criticism and to learn how to understand it. Finally, a part of the training course on handling criticism is devoted to the goal of being able to continue working together on a technical level for the good of the project even when there are differences in opinion. 

Dealing with criticism in a professional way

One of the biggest hurdles is undoubtedly our own emotions which can certainly be difficult to overcome. Even hard-nosed professionals can feel under attack and it can naturally also be the case that you find yourself really being attacked in an unprofessional way.
Individual personality types can naturally also play a role. However, it is possible to do a great deal to help develop ourselves in this area if we want to. The ability to give and receive criticism, to respond to it and to regard it as a normal part of daily working life can be learned. Whoever is able to truly regard constructive criticism as being something separate from personal feelings and who can act upon it is able to work in a more effective way. Most importantly, this type of person can also conduct more productive relationships with colleagues if a distinction is drawn between professional and personal levels.
Furthermore, a person who takes on board criticism can develop more quickly and will become a more effective leader. Competence in handling criticism also always plays an important role in avoiding conflict; it also helps with communication in general and plays a part in employee management. A good leader needs to be able to criticise. The most suitable approach is to provide a balanced form of criticism that unifies and combines praise and judgement so that the person being criticised will understand and accept the criticism as a genuine form of help and see it as a way of helping them to improve. Empathy is important and should also be taught. If you are able to put yourself in another person’s shoes, you are more likely to be able to formulate the criticism so that it will not be misunderstood.

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