Giving Your Team Time for Criticism

Photo by Andrea Natali on Unsplash

Previously we talked about the importance of building a safe environment for your team to feel comfortable disagreeing with you. Here’s the thing: creating an environment where your employees are comfortable telling you “no,” and one where they are comfortable articulating why they have that opinion, are two different things.

It’s not that leaders don’t want to hear no; it’s that they want to understand why the answer is no. To their way of thinking, and it makes sense, if no is a viable response, further information is also important — if you get to say no, they get to ask why. The problem, however, is your team might not have an answer for why right away; it may take some time to articulate; and in that gap between you asking, them answering with depth and understanding takes time during which your team can often feel judged.

Leaders are in their world thinking up ways to grow the company, solve problems, improve efficiencies… while most employees are paid to work, to do the day to day of their job that keeps the company running. That means that a leader has often done a great deal of thinking about a given subject, one that an employee hasn’t been thinking about or given time to consider. Now the employee or team is asked to give a mature and educated answer to a topic they are just learning about and thinking after the leader’s weeks or months of contemplation. That isn’t fair. People need time to think, to research, to articulate, to formulate their thoughts, and in the absence of that time they can feel judged, or worse, that no just isn’t really an option, or worse still that they aren’t smart enough to contribute. 

If your team does disagree with an idea, and they can’t immediately explain why, trust their instinct. Recognize that you have been thinking about it for a while and are just springing it on them, then give them time to formulate and articulate their reasons if they need it, and work to develop an atmosphere that feels collaborative in the process rather than like a courtroom.

At the end of the day, leading your team means giving them the chance to disagree with you and giving them the time to catch up. If we really value the opinion of the members of our team than to do otherwise is to devalue a really powerful resource. You value your team. You want your team to produce good ideas. If they are worried about a direction you want to head in, you should want them to articulate their concerns with the clarity that comes with properly thinking about the problem long enough to be clear and accurate.