Photo courtesy of Meghan Duthu

Irreconcilable Differences or Constructive Criticism: What you can do

  • Does this person have legitimate questions or concerns?
  • Have I addressed those questions or concerns?
  • Is there a possible productive outcome to their “criticisms?”

And then:

  • Does this person continually criticize my actions in other areas?
  • Do I address his/her concerns to only get resistance on something else later?
  • Is this person using the group to spread seeds of discontent?

Constructive Criticism

If you’ve answered “Yes” to the first three questions on this list, the odds are that your employee, co-manager, or co-executive is trying to offer constructive criticism or eke out more details on your plans or directions. You should take this as an opportunity for personal growth and try to respond to their questions or concerns.

You can also address your concerns about how they are voicing their opinions, and ask that they send you an email or plan a one-on-one meeting to better respond to their concerns. But mostly, you have to learn how to withstand a little bit of criticism, and also respect the fact that sometimes you don’t know everything.

Intentionally Undermining

If you’ve answered “Yes” to the last three questions, you might be experiencing “irreconcilable differences” with this particular person (or persons). Likely, they use negative language or get upset when talking about your directives, ideas, or goals, and spend time talking to other employees about how he or she feels.

In these situations, you can do your best to address his or her concerns in front of your entire team so that those seeds of discontent do not grow elsewhere. But the most important aspect of a scenario involving “irreconcilable differences” is how you move forward with this individual as part of your team.

While some leaders and executives prefer to ignore this person and work with them as much as possible, sometimes the person will force you into making a decision. For most executives dealing with “repeat underminers,” reactions include:

  • Scheduling a time to talk to the employee in your office. Here, you can lay out your concerns (their behaviors) and ask them to voice their concerns with you in a way that can provide a positive outcome. If they cannot provide their concerns or become upset, remind them that the entire team is working for the betterment of the company and you need their help to effectively address any concerns they have.
  • Give them a choice: get onboard and be respectful, or leave the team/project/company. Of course, most anyone will react poorly to this ultimatum, but that’s an approach you might have to utilize occasionally.

Most executives don’t particularly enjoy talking about either option, but it’s important for people who are not on your level to know where you stand and that continued grumbling won’t work.

Know the Difference

As a leader and an executive within your company, it’s your job to listen to the people who are working with you directly. It’s also important to keep your ego in check and to let people express their concerns with your ideas — you are not going to have a perfect record. Your employees, co-managers, and other executives are there to improve the company, as well, so you want them on your team.

For those people who have expressed their wishes to move in different directions and really are not willing to help in the solution, it may be time to let them go.

Carl is a business psychologist and leadership development expert who focuses on the development of high performance leaders.

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