The art of giving and taking criticism
Giving criticismQuoting “There’s No Such Thing as Constructive Criticism” by Tony Schwartz for Harvard Business Review:
The problem with criticism is that it challenges our sense of value. Criticism implies judgment and we all recoil from feeling judged. As Daniel Goleman has noted, threats to our esteem in the eyes of others are so potent they can literally feel like threats to our very survival.The three rules that Schwartz gives are brilliant. Paraphrased:
The conundrum is that feedback is necessary. It's the primary means by which we learn and grow.
- Don’t criticize if you feel your own values are threatened. Figuring out when that happens is difficult, because we often don’t know what threatens us or why we feel threatened. A useful clue is feeling uneasy about something. This uneasiness is often disguised as a righteous cause. Note that I’m not saying that such causes don’t exist, but you need to be aware of your own motivations, before you accuse others.
- Make sure that you don’t threaten someone else’s values.
- Don’t think you are right about something. You never have all the facts. Ever.
Taking criticismWhenever you expose your own acts of creativity to the world, you are putting yourself in a vulnerable position: Now anyone can take them apart and criticize them (and – by proxy – you). The dangers are increased by the fact that many people enjoy putting other people’s achievements down. So how do you cope with that?
- Focus on the benefits you reap: Seeking a larger audience is the only way of getting as much useful feedback as possible. You get to know ideas that are different from yours, often radically so – it’s impossible to come up with those ideas on your own. So, for very selfish reasons, you should love criticism, it’s a competitive advantage.
- Ask the other party to be specific: Much criticism is initially sweeping and general. Such criticism can make you feel incredibly bad, because there is nothing that can be refuted. It especially affects people who are highly critical of themselves. General criticism isn’t worth anything. But there is an easy way to react to it, to turn it into something useful: Ask the other party what specifically they don’t like, what concrete suggestions they have for improving things. The latter puts the ball back in their court and forces them to be constructive.
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