Sharing some criticism

Criticism has lost its stand through a combination of politeness and doubts on how the other person will react.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  April 30, 2008

Criticism is one of the most under-rated elements these days.

There are two kinds of criticism. One is the discouraging, caustic, destructive criticism that can do more damage than help and then there is the other helpful, simmered-down, suggestive criticism which is aptly called constructive. The need to share more of the latter with people cannot be over-stated, as the need to keep the former under careful check.

For one reason or the other, sharing well-studied criticism has lost its stand. A combination of politeness, hesitation and doubts on how the other person (to who the criticism is addressed) is going to react to it, however well-intentioned, convince most people to keep their thoughts to themselves. This often prevents important information from passing through to the concerned party who could possibly make things better.

In the IT world, you can see this in two areas. The first is the way vendors collect information from customers. Feedback is one of the most crucial elements that vendors depend upon to improve their products and solutions for the future and make them more relevant to the customers they serve. Often, what vendors are looking for in such feedback is constructive criticism.

However, customers will share their true thoughts with the vendor only - and this is true - if they have a comfortable relationship with the vendor or the reseller they are dealing with. If the enterprise IT manager, for whatever reason, is not entirely convivial with the person he is dealing with from the vendor's side, he will not share important information, either because he believes the vendor is not interested or incapable of rectifying the problem. This in turn results in some projects failing and the IT manager taking the harsh decision of never dealing with the vendor or buying his products anymore.

One way to solve this is for the vendor to invest equal amounts of time and energy to get to know every customer they deal with. Since that might be a tall order for most vendors, the best way to tackle this might lie with the IT manager. Depending on the value of the project to the enterprise, IT managers will have to raise their voices when they feel the solution or implementation is not going exactly the way it should or believes there are places for improvement.

The other situation is more internal. In highly-stressful, time-bound project-oriented IT departments it is essential that the team learns to share thoughts on each other's progress, work well done or possible improvements freely. Regular meetings are found to be essential for any project, not just to discuss the next stage of the implementation and the tasks ahead, but to also analyse the work that has been completed so far and how it could have been done better. While colleagues often find it difficult to point out lag points in each other's work, there is often absolute silence when it comes to indicating areas of improvement in your boss' tasks. On the other hand, being a level higher in the hierarchy can give managers a lot of power to freely criticise their juniors.

The balancing act here again lies with IT managers themselves. They have to cultivate an environment within the team where everybody shares their thoughts openly and is free to suggest changes and improvements to each other's work. And this includes considerations on the manager's work as well.

Managers will find that such healthy involvement of the team in each other's work can go a long way in improving productivity and morale, while also increasing the efficiency of each individual member. Time to give constructive criticism a chance then, I would say.

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