Many Israelis, who generally feel at home enough among their people to argue, criticize others. This is true in the current atmosphere of division and ill feelings between two conflicting groups over radical changes in the judicial system.
Pursuing a more ethical world, people in society and business speak out to criticize groups for wrongdoing and call on them to change their harmful ways. Activists demand justice for minorities and the powerless, employees call attention to unfair practices at work, journalists put a spotlight on harm in society and business leaders speak out on political topics.
New research by Prof. Lauren Howe in the business administration department at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, identifies a way that criticism across these scenarios can be made more effective. A series of experiments involving more than 1,400 people have shown that groups that have been attacked verbally are more likely to take criticism to heart when the messenger not only criticizes the groups but also shows concern for the issues that the criticized groups themselves face.
The findings were published in the Journal of Business Ethics under the title “Expressing Dual Concern in Criticism for Wrongdoing: The Persuasive Power of Criticizing with Care.”
When criticizing groups, messengers often address the group by criticizing the group for causing harm to another group and imploring them to change their ways. “What messengers may not realize is that when a person accuses a group of harm like this, members of the group may believe that the messenger views their group as immoral and doesn’t care about their outcomes,” Howe explained. “We find in our research that when messages include dual concern by expressing concern for the group that is criticized while still accusing the group of causing harm, it reduces this problematic inference, and thus dual concern messages are more effective at encouraging members of a group to agree with the criticism of their own group.”
Higher chance of agreement if criticism considers multiple groups
In one of the experiments, liberals or conservatives in the US agreed 6.6% more with a company boss criticizing their political group in a news article if he or she additionally acknowledged that the political group also faced harm such as being mocked and ignored by others. Participants were also 7.1% more willing to shop at the CEO’s company than when criticism was issued without care.
The research also tested the idea in campaigns – participants read a poster advocating to stop prejudice against a group with whom they personally disagreed – whether liberals or conservatives, Christians or atheists, or the elderly or millennials. The poster led participants to agree 8.6% more strongly that their disfavored group faces unfair and specific prejudices when the poster conveyed that the advocates also were concerned about the prejudices that many other groups faced.
In one study, 87.3% of liberals who said that conservatives are harming America still agreed that “conservatives, like anyone, deserve a voice, and their concerns should be heard. We should care for conservatives.” But interestingly, conservatives estimated that only 40.8% of critical liberals would agree that conservatives are worthy of concern. Likewise, 83.9% of conservatives who were critical of liberals agreed that liberals deserve a voice and should be heard, but liberals estimated that only 35.3% of conservatives would express concern for liberals. This means that people in both political parties underestimated the concern of their ideological opponents by half.
Howe summarized that criticism works better when it’s handed out with care. “When messengers point out harm or wrongdoing, they should consider what challenges the group that they are accusing of harm face.
Messengers may want to acknowledge these challenges to signal to their audience that they are not dismissed as immoral. As messengers raise their voices to criticize one group for harming another group in the service of social change, their arguments are more persuasive when they emphasize concern for the criticized.