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North Central Business Journal News

(October 2000 issue)

by Sandra Kay Neal, Ph.D.

     Some people have a high need for achievement.  People with this characteristic value succeeding.  They choose moderately difficult challenges which will allow them to succeed through their competence and effort.  In order to succeed, they seek out constructive criticism to improve and learn from mistakes. 

     Some people have a high need for affiliation.  People with this characteristic value people liking them.  They also do not wish to have anyone experience hurt.  These people respond to negative information, even constructive criticism, as a personal insult – it hurts.  They are unwilling to provide negative information, even constructive criticism, because they fear hurting other people.

     Problems often occur in the workplace when these people are involved in a supervisor-employee relationship.  If High-Affiliators are in supervision, they have enormous difficulty providing the corrective information their employees need.  Even if their employees specifically ask for this useful, but potentially negative information, High-Affiliator supervisors are reluctant to offer it.  If they do, they attempt to soften it to the point where the information is too garbled to be beneficial.  High-Affiliator supervisors need to remember that the kindest thing they can offer their employees is the honor of believing they can improve because they are competent.  In other words, High-Affiliator supervisors need to see constructive criticism as a “nice” thing, not something distasteful.

     If High-Achievers are in supervision, they get confused when they offer matter-of-fact statements that they personally would wish to receive and get a whimpering, hurtful look from their High-Affiliation employees.   To avoid this “emotional” reaction, many High-Achiever supervisors back off, muttering about silly emotionalism.  A more useful approach is for High-Achiever supervisors to offer their useful constructive criticism as a means of the employee increasing their popularity among co-workers.  For example, “If you will do the task this way, you’ll help your co-worker get their task done easier.”

     When supervisors are dealing with employees who react to constructive criticism differently than they do, it is helpful to recognize that this difference is both natural and acceptable.  It is not helpful to back off from appropriate supervisory responsibilities because the employee gets hurts receiving negative information.  It is beneficial to rephrase things so that the employee can hear it in the manner in which it was intended. 

     High-Achiever supervisors are not intending to be hurtful; in fact, their comments are intended to be helpful since receiving corrective information allows people to improve, which is something most people wish.  But supervisors who value receiving this corrective information need to appreciate that not everyone hears it the way they do.  When that is the case, these supervisors can provide their employees with this needed information by affirming the employee.  This lets the employee know they are valued, and enables the employee to benefit from the expertise of their supervisor without emotionality interfering.

Sandra Kay Neal holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and has 19 years experience helping organizations solve human resource issues.  Her company, Synergistic Organizational Solutions, specializes in aiding small businesses.  Dr. Neal can be reached at sos_hr@localaccess.com.

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