As a professional, criticism is something you have to deal with from time to time. No one is perfect.
So when you make a mistake or fault in your duties, you can expect disapproval and judgment from others. Sometimes, it’s from your superiors, but other times, it’ll be your co-workers.
Criticism comes in different forms. While some are meant to help you change positively, like constructive criticism, others are meant to harm. An example of the latter is destructive criticism.
Irrespective of how or why you get criticized, it’s essential to know how to handle it. It speaks of how good you are as a professional.
In this post, we look at what destructive criticism is all about, some examples, and how to handle it with aplomb.
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Destructive criticism does more harm than good. Such a form of criticism is meant to offer no help to the receiver. Instead, it harms, belittles, and sometimes insults the receiver. It’s insulting if it refers to the prestige or reputation of the receiver.
It’s easy for the receiver of destructive criticism to be offended or depressed, depending on how they receive the feedback. This is why you must know how to handle such criticism if you encounter it.
More often than not, destructive criticism is personal. While trying to show disapproval of your actions, your boss or co-worker may include unnecessary factors like gender and race. Sometimes it’s an emotional attack, whereby the critic factors in your current situation.
It’s never okay to give destructive criticism. So, if you’re a superior or team leader in any given situation, avoid it. No matter what you think of the result of a team member, there are always better ways to convey your disapproval.
However, some people give out destructive criticism unintentionally. They often mistake it for other related types of criticism, like negative criticism, for example. Let’s consider some examples of destructive criticism to give you a clear picture of what it entails.
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Identifying destructive criticism is key to handling it properly. In that regard, here are some examples of destructive criticism in a professional setting:
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As mentioned earlier, some people give out destructive criticism unintentionally. As a professional, becoming a deliverer or victim of this type of destructive criticism is easy. Most times, unintentional destructive criticism comes as a joke.
For instance, you may say to a female team member, “you would have done better if you were stronger. That’s why the men are the best here.” While you may mean it as a joke, you can’t dictate how the team member receives it.
To the recipient, you could mean that she will never be good at her job because she’s not a man — which would never be true. No one will be happy hearing such. So, rather than give such a type of criticism, simply point out how the team member can improve and do better next time.
It’s also possible to have good intentions and still give out unintentional destructive criticism. For example, you can tell a team member, “this looks good, but it’s not useful to us.”
It’s easy for the team member to interpret your statement to mean that they’re useless to the team and that they had wasted their time doing the job.
Generally, a way to avoid unintentional destructive criticism is to watch your words when giving feedback. If you’re on the receiving end and you recognize the criticism as unintentional, politely tell the person that you’re not okay with what they said.
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Bullying is commonplace in many workplaces. In fact, it’s the most common type of destructive criticism you can encounter. To be straightforward, this type of destructive criticism is often due to hate or anger towards the receiver.
When you are a victim of bullying, you feel attacked. A perfect example is when your superior forces you to do things their way.
For example, you may have done a job in a way that’s convenient to you and gotten substantial results. But when you deliver the results to your superior, they disapprove of it. You may hear something like, “keep quiet and do exactly what you’re told.”
Such a statement is enough to make you feel offended or intimidated. Basically, the superior is saying that your opinion on the matter is irrelevant and that they are in charge.
Other times, it’s as if the superior is trying to get rid of you by calling out every mistake you make, even minor ones that they would ignore if done by other workers.
Your superiors are not the only ones who can bully you in the workplace; your co-workers can also. In the long run, staying in such a work environment will affect your productivity.
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Here’s another common example of destructive criticism you can encounter. Primarily, it stems from disputes between two or more team members. Then, the rest of the team members pick sides.
The difference between team conflict and other examples of destructive criticism is that the destructive feedback isn’t directed at you alone. Instead, it’s directed to a group.
Each side will try to show why they are correct; to do so, they go to lengths to belittle the others. As a result, if you’re part of such a team, you can encounter destructive criticism irrespective of what side you’re on. You can also deliver destructive criticism unintentionally.
Most often than not, there’s a clear line differentiating each side in the conflict. For example, it could be the men disagreeing with the women or being racially based.
Suppose a member of one group makes a gender-based or racially-based derogatory statement. In that case, it gets to everyone in the opposing group. Aside from gender and racial differences, team conflict can also arise due to workplace politics.
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You may experience subordinate destructive criticism if you’re a team leader. It happens when there are disloyal members on your team – members who don’t accept your position as a leader.
If your team members don’t accept your position as their leader, they’ll disapprove of everything you do, good or bad. As a result, you’ll come under heavy destructive criticism.
Again, this example of destructive criticism is influenced by factors such as gender and race. For example, you may be a woman in charge of a team full of sexists.
In such a situation, your team members will only be satisfied if you step down from your leading position. And they might say all sorts of things to make you.
Similarly, you may be a black or white person in charge of a team of predominantly white or black racists, respectively. Your team members will also criticize your every move to remove you from your position.
Subordinate destructive criticism is one of the work examples of destructive criticism. It means that your team will be unproductive. And this may make you appear as an inefficient team leader at the end of the day.
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Personal destructive criticism is common from co-workers. Nonetheless, it may or may not have anything to do with your work performance. A primary reason for this type of destructive criticism is jealousy.
Your co-workers may make statements like, “I don’t like your hair,” or “your clothes are too tight,” simply because you appear physically better than them.
It’s personal because they attack characteristics that form your character. For example, disapproval towards your hair or how you dress is an attack on your style. Workplace critics take this route when there’s nothing to complain about regarding your work performance.
Another example is if you are a favorite of your superiors and often get praise from them. A jealous co-worker will want to do the opposite and point out the negatives.
Take, for instance, you get a promotion at work. Rather than celebrate with you, a jealous critic can mention that you don’t have the capacity to handle the extra hours and pressure that comes with the promotion. Again, this is personal, as it attacks your ability to work.
Negative non-verbal cues, isolation, and avoidance are also some forms of personal destructive criticism.
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Destructive criticism can affect an individual, a work team, and an entire organization differently. Here are some of the effects of this type of negative criticism:
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Destructive criticism can forever destroy the relationship between co-workers, team leaders, and team members. It happens if the receiver is particularly offended by the destructive feedback.
In essence, the receiver of destructive criticism is more likely to approach future disagreements with the critic with avoidance and resistance. They are also less likely to allow a compromise or collaboration to solve future disputes.
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As mentioned earlier, one common example of destructive criticism is team conflict. This type of destructive criticism can easily make the work environment toxic.
In a toxic work environment, bullying, yelling, and manipulation are common. You would expect these behaviors when a work team is divided into two or more disagreeing sides.
Aside from team conflicts, subordinate destructive criticism and bullying can also make the workplace toxic.
Irrespective of the type of destructive criticism, it’s impossible to grow career-wise, both individually and collectively, when in a toxic work environment.
Instead, a toxic work environment will lead to many workers resigning. The organization may lose some of its best workers in the aftermath.
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Team or workplace productivity can decrease significantly if there’s constant destructive criticism among the workers. Even constructive criticism can sometimes affect productivity.
Suppose you’re a team leader and a team member is not performing well. In that case, they need encouragement and not abuse – which is what destructive criticism can be. You should learn how to deliver criticism in a productive way.
However, it can also be destructive criticism from team members toward their leaders. A case, as explained earlier, is that of subordinate destructive criticism, where team members refuse to support their leader.
Bullying is another example of destructive criticism that will affect productivity. If you’re being bullied by a superior at work, you’ll be less likely to put in your best.
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Workplace conflict occurs between disagreeing workers. The disagreement could be based on different interests, ideas, beliefs, or personalities. Destructive criticism can stem from these disagreements.
Destructive feedback from one worker to another can lead to serious conflict, either verbally or physically. Some people, when attacked, often take the counterattack approach to defend themselves, and conflict never ends well for anyone.
Destructive criticism is more prone to evolve into conflict if it’s personal. But no matter what a person says, if you’re at the receiving end of destructive feedback, you should always avoid conflicts.
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Not handling destructive criticism the right way can lead to you doing something you regret later. So, if you ever encounter harmful, offensive criticism, here’s how to handle it:
When you receive criticism, you must first acknowledge it. Accept that the speaker is expressing their disapproval on something you need, and afterward, identify if it’s destructive criticism.
As mentioned earlier, you can easily feel intimidated when you receive destructive criticism. But you shouldn’t. When you do, you are giving the speaker power over yourself, which is what they want.
Also, if you don’t address it and allow yourself to be intimidated, the speaker will deliver more destructive feedback in the future. So, keep your head up, and be ready to call out the speaker about their statement. The action you take will depend on your relationship with the critic.
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As you already know, there are different examples and types of destructive criticism. So, it’s important that you review the statement and the situation, in general, to understand why it happened.
It may be an unintentional destructive criticism. And how you respond to such destructive criticism will be different from how you react to more severe ones, like bullying and personal destructive criticism.
If you react fiercely to an unintentional destructive criticism, you may destroy your relationship with the speaker forever. Meanwhile, a simple reprimand will see that they never repeat such behavior again.
Similarly, how you respond to destructive criticism from your boss will differ from how you react to your coworker. So, when reviewing the situation, you should consider the speaker and the type of destructive criticism.
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It sounds ironic, but you don’t have to respond to every critical statement you receive, whether destructive or otherwise.
Some critics only make statements to draw attention or distract and cause you to make an error. You can decide to not respond to such critics. At least not immediately.
Also, if it’s unintentional destructive criticism and you have a very informal relationship with the speaker, you can ignore it.
Destructive criticism, while it’s never okay, can still be truthful. Sometimes, it comes from a place of anger when a team member keeps making errors, even after multiple attempts to correct them.
If you receive such a form of destructive criticism, you can focus on doing the job better next time. When you do, you can then point out the destructive statements to your boss. If it was from a place of anger, they should apologize.
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When destructive criticism demands immediate action, you also must take your time to decide on what action to take.
There have been instances where employees fight in the workplace or verbally abuse each other due to one criticism or the other.
Your superiors won’t condone fighting or other aggressive behavior because you were criticized by another worker. It could lead to your dismissal. Therefore, before taking action, you must consider the consequences.
The ideal option if you receive criticism from co-workers is to report it to a well-meaning superior. You can also verbally reprimand the speaker but refrain from making abusive statements.
Suppose you receive destructive criticism from your boss. In that case, you can politely and tactfully let them know you’re uncomfortable with their statement. You can also report it to a higher body in your workplace, like the HR department, for example.
If you opt to report to the HR department, you will need to provide evidence. Evidence can simply be other eyewitnesses during the encounter.
As discussed, Destructive criticism affects the coherence of team members, causes conflict, reduces productivity, and, in general, makes the work environment toxic. It should never be encouraged.
Follow the tips above to handle it. However, there’s one thing you should take care of when responding to destructive criticism, never go over the top with your actions.
Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.