Tech Manager—Criticism and its Motivation

No one likes to be criticized. It can bruise your self-image, derail your initiative, sideline your gusto, and stop an effort in its tracks. Negative comments, things spoken in hushed tones, things said behind your back, or overt challenges can be daunting. They may be given in harsh tones, using broad, general terms or misstated information, and done where there are other people listening.

Criticism can deflate even the strongest, self-confident people. But what if you could harness that negatively focused comment and turn it into a positive. What if you faced it head on and sifted through the bluster to get to the core of the thought. I suggest you lean into your critics and learn from their push back. First reactions matter. I wrote an article on developing “thick skin” back in October 2018. You may want to read that as a companion to this discussion.

Let’s first look at what might be motivating the critic to pick at your plans. It is usually not that they are out to get you. It is not that they have deeply thought about your plans. You may be seeing a knee jerk reaction. Here are some reasons that might motivate folks to respond with negative feedback.


Some people don’t really understand what you are saying. They think the scope of your efforts is too grand and that you are upsetting the apple cart on everything. They think that you are overstepping your bounds or changing things just to have something to do. They may not have a clear picture of your goal. They may have a clouded understanding of the targets.

What to Do

Clearly point out the scope and target of any ideas you have. Keep restating it in different ways so that they can better understand. Take it upon yourself to review your message and see if it is cloudy or clear. Then talk to them again if they still have questions. You may not win them over, but you can clear up any confusion.

Negative Bent

You know them… the people who are negative about everything. They see the drawbacks immediately after the words come out of your mouth. They are negative about the office, co-workers, the breakroom clutter, the work hours, and on and on. They seem to always see the world from a gloomy perspective. Negative comments are expected from them.

What to Do

Brace yourself. Get ready for the negatives. You know they are coming. Respond well, taking them in with a smile. Don’t just write them off. You may want to probe a little deeper on some issues, but make a note of the tone and volume. Is it the same as every other comment they make about other things? Or is it less (that is good), or more (you need to pay attention). Sifting through an expected negative for a positive requires effort. Don’t let it pass by without pondering it.

Reluctant to Change

When people do understand what you are saying and they push back, it may be because they are reluctant to change. Change is hard and it takes effort. Some people just would rather not expend the effort to make things happen. They are not just reluctant to your changes; they seem reluctant to any changes.

What to Do

Give them time to accept the change and then make the change. Give them a timeline. Tell them that you will get back to them in a month or after the project is done. Tell them that you can apply the change later when they have more time. But make sure that they know the change will happen, just not right now for them. Move toward those that are eager to embrace the change and circle back to the reluctant.

Overwhelming Stress

You may find that stress is causing staffers to resist changes. You may not have any idea of the pressure that others might be under from deadlines, client demands, staffing issues or even home life. When people have stress upon stress, they really do not want to take on anything else. What you are asking them to do might seem trivial or easy, but to them it is the final straw.

What to Do

Give them some space. Ask about their deadlines and project milestones. Ask them how you might help them with other things that are causing them stress. Offer to help them, even if it is to delay your progress. Like the reluctant, tell them you will circle back later to see if things are easing off.

Money or Time

You need to keep in mind that money and time can be in short supply. Even if someone is accepting of the idea of change, they may not know how it will be paid for or when they will have time to do it. Upper management is in tune with money issues. That might be the key. Middle management and line workers are keen on time. They have limited quantities.

What to Do

Pare down your money and time requests to the minimum. Your plan might include some “nice to haves”, but you may have to reduce it to the most critical items on your change list. That would be defined as the bare bones impact on their time and money that keeps the ball moving forward. Have you defined the least effort needed? Offer them that.

Malicious Intent

Some maybe out to derail your efforts on purpose. They may have other agendas and your changes, expansions, and modifications do not fit into their goals. They would rather not see you make progress. They may have a chip on their shoulder from past interactions with you, or just see you as an encumbrance to their progress on their priorities. Either way, they are determined to see you fail.

What to Do

Stay close to them. Keep talking to them about your initiatives. Find out their goals and align your targets to something they want to see done, or at least let them know that your efforts don’t impede theirs. Make sure they know that you are resilient and tenacious (prior articles I wrote) and that your plans will not easily be derailed. Keep an open mind to adjustments to your plans but stay focused on the target.

Next time we will discuss how to embrace critical people and comments to get the most from them. There may be some value in reading between the lines or hearing the pointed comments clearly. Then you can reshape them into action items.

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