Can criticism actually change people?

Monday, January 20th, 2014 By Jack Nevison

Skilled project managers are used to offering constructive criticism to their teams. But what if such criticism actually makes it less likely that those criticized will change their ways?

That's the suggestion put forward by Harvard Business Review contributor Daniel Goleman, who argued that people may not respond as well to attempts to highlight their failings as we think. Instead, it only serves to put people on the defensive. 

Goleman quotes Richard Boyatzis, a professor at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western, who cites recent research on brain imaging to argue that focusing on hopes and dreams, rather than failures, may be the most effective strategy for managers to pursue.

"Talking about your positive goals and dreams activates brain centers that open you up to new possibilities," he writes. "But if you change the conversation to what you should do to fix yourself, it closes you down."

In his research, Boyatzis had people undergo a positive interview and a negative interview, all while scanning their brains. He found that in the first interview, brain scans could detect active reward circuitry. Meanwhile, the negative interview activated circuitry that controls anxiety.

While managers certainly need to be on the lookout for employee behavior that doesn't work, they should try to change it by looking to the future in a positive manner. Based on how our brains work, it seems that this is the best way to encourage different—and better—results.

At New Leaf Project Management, we can show you how to focus on the positive through a robust plan combined with dynamic project execution. Our fundamental program, "Five Sigma Project Management," anticipates varying results as a normal part of the project and shows you how to smoothly adjust to them. In addition, our free white papers and QPM quizzes provide an excellent opportunity for them to earn PDU credits for PMP recertification.

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