Encourage employees to criticise you if you want to be more creative

Being able to take and constructively process criticism could be key to better decisions, a new study suggests.

by Lauren Brown
Last Updated: 01 May 2020

Criticism is something that many bosses find easier to give than to receive. The fear that you’ll be told something you don’t want to hear, or make someone react negatively means that it’s often easier to avoid it altogether. 

But soon to be published research has found that receiving criticism from their employees could do a leader wonders; it also suggests that good leaders are better at receiving it. 

Initially featuring in the Harvard Business Review, the study by the Cambridge Judge Business School - which included the research  of 225 people working in creative jobs in Korea and a lab experiment involving 365 undergraduates -  revealed that negative feedback actually alerts the recipient to a “creativity-standard gap”, prompting them to pay heightened attention to what they need to do to improve.

Better “task-strategies” are employed as a means of closing that gap, co-author Yeun Joon Kim found, especially when the criticism is levelled from junior as well as senior colleagues.

Researchers suggest that senior leaders have a thicker skin than was often assumed because: “With the heightened level of social distance, high-power employees pay less attention to their social relationships with others; instead, they tend to strengthen their focus on the achievement of ultimate goals and maintain high levels of self-control in the process of goal pursuit.”

They were therefore less likely to take it personally and more likely to approach it as vital feedback instrumental to future business success. 

Yeun Joon Kim said: “We understand that workers are reluctant to criticise their bosses because it challenges people who have power over organisational resources. 

“Yet our research suggests that companies should encourage this because superiors are more thick-skinned than people assume, and they tend to process the negative feedback into creative tasks that boost company performance.”

The authors recommend that “organisations should consider instituting formal processes that encourage followers to provide thoughtful, critical feedback to their superiors”.

Image credit: Sean Gallup / Staff via Getty Images


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