Improve your team culture with one important change — stop the use of CJB (criticisms, judgments and blame).
Why Do We Use CJB?
We have been socialized to use CJB to:
- make it clear what is right and wrong
- inform people of mistakes so they will not make them again
- identify inappropriate behavior
- create high-quality work output
- avoid responsibility in a workplace where responsibility and authority are separated
- avoid unintended and/or unwanted consequences
The list can go on, yet the underlying logic has been: “If I correct people with criticisms, use judgments to be clear about what is good or bad and blame people for mistakes or failure, they will not do it again.”
Why Stop Using CJB?
It creates more downside than upside.
Our work with clients globally has proven that the simplest way to transform workplaces for the better is to stop doing what hurts.
CJB is a habit that tends to instill fear and anxiety within us. This increases our biological imperative to survive, as jobs/money equal survival in our modern world. When we are in survival mode, we react from our reptilian or mammalian parts of our brains that produce fight-or-flight behavior. When in fight-or-flight behavior, we defend ourselves and cannot access our higher-level functioning that comes from the brain’s frontal lobe. As a result, CJB prevents clear thinking and creativity, just the behavior we need in teamwork.
It is true that a strong level of CJB will prevent someone from doing something again, but it often prevents the same person from being open, curious, trusting and creative, as well.
Points to Consider About the Effects of CJB
- Rewarding what works (positive reinforcement) has been found to be more effective in changing behavior and increasing high-quality work punishing what does not work (negative reinforcement). See how Disney catches people “doing things right” as a way to instill the organization’s values in their staff.
- Judgements limit people’s quality of thinking. It is essential to have clear boundaries about what is acceptable behavior at work and that is a healthy practice. However, when comments that are judgmental are used at work, we shut down. When we hear judgments against us or others a few times, we start to fear that such judgments will create unwanted consequences. Comments such as “that work is junk” or “he is stupid” or “she always complains,” as examples, create a fear-centric workplace that reduces everyone’s capacity to think.
- Judgements of what is right and wrong are not obvious across contexts. Take a viral video of Dr Gallogy, who shouted at a patient and her family. Of course, we judge that behavior as “wrong” yet what if he and his staff were being threatened with violence at the time? Then was he “right” to shout? See an article here and another here. What is “right” and “wrong” depends on the context. Therefore, pointing out judgments of what is right and wrong has to be contextualized.
- Blame never helps anyone. We might blame to avoid unwanted consequences of our behavior or blame someone else to pin the responsibility for a solution on somebody. The result? We delay solutions. Nothing gets solved. Problems are hidden, postponing much-needed attention. We get scared of unwanted consequences that we want to avoid.
What Are the Alternatives?
These are some behavior we can use to replace CJB:
- Reward what works as mentioned above.
- Use constructive criticism, which means share ways others can improve while speaking with respect and care. When we use evidence to suggest changes, people listen. For example, “I thought that you presentation was very effective because your slides were simple and clear and you elaborated with insightful points as you spoke to them. It made it easy to follow and understand the points you were making.”
- Stop the use of blame altogether. Blame means that someone is at fault. Problems can be solved with a focus on the issue and the reasons for the mistakes. When we take that approach, we learn from the mistakes, make contextual adjustments and then try again. Doing this respects everyone involved, ensuring a positive team culture in which people feel psychologically safe to share problems and solutions at any given time. As an example, “These revenue figures do not match our plan. What happened? Which blocked our ability to get to our revenue goals? What do we need to change to ensure we meet our goals next time?” (notice the use of direct questions, yet no blame to anyone involved)
- Use judgments if they help clarify the situation, yet avoid judging people or their behavior and outcomes. Rather, state what was expected and discuss the reasons the expectations were not met. For instance, “I was not happy about the argument that we engaged in during our team meeting. Arguments in meetings are unacceptable. What can we do to listen to each other’s ideas without knocking them down?”
Practice, Practice, Practice
The path toward any new habit is through practice.
Try this experiment: stop using CJB with yourself and others for one week. Notice what happens.
Then, invite your team members to stop using CJB with themselves and others for one week. Notice and discuss what happens.
Please share your learning with us in the comments of this blog.
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