Middle managers handle criticism better than their bosses, survey shows

Middle managers are the most resilient group in the workplace, according to a new study.

The poll of 2,000 people questioned district and regional managers, department or unit managers, supervisors and foremen about their tough-mindedness and their ability to accept criticism.

The middle managers’ median tough-minded score was the highest of all the groups. Surprisingly, company presidents and chief executives ranked the lowest for resiliency, followed by executives, and professional, technical, and administrative employees.

“The study suggests that middle managers have the greatest ability to accept criticism,” said Wayne Nemeroff, chief executive of assessment firm PsyMax Solutions, which carried out the research.

“Perhaps because of the nature of the middle management role they continuously get feedback from all directions, from above, below and sideways,” he said.

“Those at the centre of the organisational structure demonstrate strength in being able to manage stress and to keep resilient in the face of frustration, disappointment or criticism.”

The study found that out of a possible 100 points, the groups scored very differently when it came tough-mindedness:

  • President/CEO/COO – 65.5 – Low
  • Executive – 72.6 – Average
  • District/Regional Manager – 84.1 – Very High
  • Department/Unit Manager – 78.9 – High
  • Supervisor/Foreman – 77.9 – High
  • Professional and Technical – 72.6 – Average
  • Administrative and Clerical – 72.6 – Average

Nemeroff warned that tough-mindedness was not a substitute for resilience to criticism.

“Common issues that might emerge [if staff are tough-minded but not resilient] are allowing stress and frustration to show, becoming defensive in response to criticism and having difficulty rebounding from setbacks,” he said. 

“[People] should also try to share their thoughts or reactions, and not bottle them up. In fact, too much emotional control may cause people to close down their communication and listening skills.”

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