How Leaders can Break Free of the Fear of Criticism

by Sep 28, 2020

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If someone tries to offer you feedback, how open are you to accept it? How do you think you will react? Do you immediately get defensive, anticipating critical feedback, thinking up of justifications?

Don’t worry if this happens to you. Most of us do not welcome criticism. We do like to form opinions and offer them freely to those around us, however, when it comes to receiving feedback, we are mostly uncomfortable.

If you are a leader in an organization, you must realize that taking in regular feedback is extremely important in the workplace. Having a clear path of communication with your employees is critically important for teams to function properly.

It Is Hard to Accept Feedback

Most leaders are not comfortable receiving feedback. They prefer to mentor teams, help them out at every stage, and offer constructive advice. But most prefer not to hear what people have to honestly say about them.

The first and most common issue that can be observed in the workplace is that leaders rarely get honest feedback. Due to hierarchy, employees have seen leaders move up the ladder, and to ensure they are always in good graces with them, they offer only positive feedback.

This results in over inflated egos. Leaders not only become full of themselves but also ignore the reality of the workplace around them.

“Most leaders have gotten used to having their egos stroked by employees seeking to be in their good graces. This puts an organization at a disadvantage due to the lack of honesty and intimacy”

Another reason that makes it difficult to accept feedback is our human nature itself. It is true that we are curious creatures and want to learn about everything around us. At the same time, we are not comfortable with learning about ourselves.

We want people to accept us for who we are. We do not want others to highlight our flaws, and that demotivates even our well-wishers to come forward with honest feedback.

Triggers of Rejection

Even if sometimes leaders do receive feedbacks, most will choose to ignore and completely reject them. According to Tushar Vakil, an award-winning executive leadership coach, master facilitator, and keynote speaker I recently spoke with on my Rant & Grow podcast, there are three things that trigger rejection.

1. Truth trigger: If someone confronts a leader directly about the flaws or shortcomings in their leadership, it offends them. It is rare to find people that accept truth, even when it’s coming from someone close to them.

2. Relationship trigger: As it happens in the workplace, every relationship in the workplace has certain dynamics that can also trigger rejection. If a colleague comes up with honest feedback, it comes attached with the emotional baggage of his/her position and job title in the company. Due to this relationship dynamic, leaders will find it uncomfortable to accept the feedback.

3. Identity trigger: This revolves more around personal issues of a leader including their childhood baggage and unhealed traumas. Our behavior is defined by our childhood and it’s often reflected in our actions when we grow up. Sometimes a leader finds it hard to digest criticism because of deep-rooted issues and insecurities (i.e. growing up with an overbearing mother).

How to Overcome the Fear of Criticism

The first step is to acknowledge that critical and honest feedback will not only improve your bond with employees but will help you make informed decisions.

“When your employees get to share their concerns freely, you become more aware of the dynamics in the workplace, helping you make better decisions.”

To overcome fear of criticism, the second and the most important step is self-awareness. You should be aware of your behavior and of those around you.

As it is rightly said, ‘awareness is half the cure’

If you provide a safe space for your employees to share feedback, you will get to know about the strengths and weaknesses of your leadership style. 

When your employees feel comfortable sharing their opinion and know that their concerns are being heard, they will open up further. This creates intimacy and trust and translates to a more productive workplace.

“As a leader, you must know when you are restricting the flow of intimacy and trust in the workplace by allowing the inflation of your ego.”

By keeping yourself aware and connected to your team, you can easily manage the first two triggers i.e. truth and relationship triggers.

For your deep-rooted childhood issues, you must realize that they will interfere with your work someday or the other. A leader must opt for one-on-one coaching, and possibly even therapy if they have these issues.

With proper coaching from the right experts, these insecurities can be understood and checked.

“If you want to be an effective leader, you must face your true self and overcome your fears and traumas.”

Once you do that, you will find yourself more accepting and willing to receive criticisms and work on yourself accordingly.

Once you overcome the fear of criticism, you should remember to accept it in the right way as well. Some criticism is projection by the other person. As you keep your ego in check, you will be able to discern the difference and make best use of the information to help yourself and others.

Listening to employees and working on yourself will help you gain trust in your leadership. You must remember that one should never stop learning, and being open to criticism allows you to keep motivating yourself to grow.

Check out the Rant & Grow podcast episode with Tushar. Maybe you’ll discover some wisdom for your own life. You can listen to the podcast right here.

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