Less criticizing and more appreciating: keys to improve the professional environment


Winston Churchill said that criticism will not be pleasant, but it is necessary. However, it seems that current neuroscience points to the importance of developing another look.

Neuroscience has found a negative effect of criticism on people, starting with self-criticism. We are continually judging ourselves and criticizing the people and systems of which we are a part.

This attitude generates mistrust and distancing. It does not promote spaces in which working becomes an agile task, in which we feel part of the team or the company. It does not help a dynamic marked by trust.

The effect of criticism on the brain

A self-critical attitude favors brain areas that promote anxiety and depression. On the other hand, a friendly attitude favors confidence, memory and attention, reducing anxiety.

If we distinguish between criticism and evaluative response (some people use the term feedback , literally feedback in English), the former would focus on what is missing, the gap between where I am and what I need to improve. This is the facet that we often offer to others and to ourselves, and that can become a continuous criticism, judging.

It puts us on the defensive, undermines our confidence. It predisposes us to defend ourselves by fighting, and on many occasions without knowing what actions to take to achieve the desired improvement in a promising future.

Do we improve or do we get frustrated?

Actually, it’s kind of a trap. Because to the extent that we achieve the purpose we have set for ourselves, we go back to manufacturing a new purpose or they criticize us again. Thus, a state of trying to diminish an imaginary gap is perpetuated, between what we do (or what we are), which is insufficient, and what we want to do differently (or who we want to be).

The activation of the brain when we hear negative words is very different from when we hear positive ones. The brain experiences a greater response towards the positive, faster, with greater intensity and longer lasting.

The appreciative gaze

Both in the work world and in the personal world, we tend to focus on what is missing in order to improve. However, we also have the opportunity to look and respond from a different point of view, valuing what is there as a base on which to build.

It is what is called an appreciative look: building from the recognition of what is there, not so much from the complaint and defensive attitudes that organizations and people promote far from the well-being and effectiveness of good teamwork.

Appreciative conversation creates a space for learning, co-creation, and collaboration that leads the person receiving the comment to improve, flourish, and want to continue collaborating and building. It is a different vision, focused on the positive and not on the negative. Something we are not used to.

The appreciative response

This type of response prevents the person from feeling criticized or judged. On the contrary, she feels valued and empowered. It is the appreciative comment.

Its objective is the personal and professional growth of people, empowering those who receive the comment, recognizing what they do, paying attention to what is there, not what is missing. It’s about promoting growth, inspiration, and joyful engagement .

Pay attention to what exists, without denying the possibility of continuing to grow, but starting from recognition. It consists of four steps, which is known in the literature as FOAR.

  1. Strengths. Look at the strengths, recognize them and investigate them. It helps to realize what the person really contributes.
  2. Opportunities. Observe the opportunities that the person has to continue growing and strengthening from those strengths.
  3. Aspirations. Ask about aspirations.
  4. Results. And given your strengths, opportunities, and aspirations, what results do you hope to achieve in the future?

Change the look

If we break the tendency to look at ourselves negatively, we will be more kind and respectful to others. A change of focus towards the positive, what inspires, what makes us different is necessary. We all have positive aspects: looking at them enhances the relationship, generates bonds of trust and makes people feel happier. It is worth changing the look.

Let us be proactive from this perspective that promotes growth and trust. Let’s try; Let’s start by looking at ourselves in this way, and we will get emotions that promote well-being and professional effectiveness in the team.

Author Bios: Elena Quevedo is a Lecturer & Researcher. Faculty of Psychology and Education. Educational Innovation Unit (Responsible Teacher Training) and Fernando Diez Ruiz is a Professor Doctor Faculty of Education and Sport both at the University of Deusto