I’ve worked for a number of people who were brilliantly able to spot flaws, articulate weaknesses, and generate devastating critiques. A significant part of my research training was learning to separate criticism of my experimental design or interpretation from personal criticism. A steady stream of negative feedback is withering.
Everyone on your team, and everyone in your overall organization is carrying burdens, struggling with issues, battling inner demons. They have strengths but also many weaknesses. I admire Mother Teresa’s counsel: “People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway.”
My recommendation is to focus most of your attention on the positives. Call out the good things when you see them, no matter how “routine” or “small.” What gets praised is more likely to be repeated.
Save your critical assessment for the right contexts. There are two:
- Coaching for improvement.
- Selecting people for new assignments and roles. You need to be realistic about weaknesses which outweigh their strengths in particular situations.
It’s also helpful to reflect on what your younger self. Chances are you were a person of high potential, eager to demonstrate your brilliance, over-confident, and oblivious to the fact that history didn’t start when you arrived. Or you were a bundle of anxious nerves when asked to get out of your narrow comfort zone. Or you carried deep secrets which made you fearful. Not like the wise and humble self that you are now, of course!
It takes courage to be bold, gentle, and gracious. Call out the positives. Save the critiques for the right situations where they are necessary and appropriate.