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The art of giving and taking criticism

12.07.2011
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This post provides a few rules that help with giving and taking criticism.

Giving criticism

Quoting “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 conundrum is that feedback is necessary. It's the primary means by which we learn and grow.

The three rules that Schwartz gives are brilliant. Paraphrased:
  1. 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.
  2. Make sure that you don’t threaten someone else’s values.
  3. Don’t think you are right about something. You never have all the facts. Ever.
There is always an element of violence in criticizing others. You tell them that they are wrong. You might think that you are helping, but that never takes away the violence. An alternative to criticizing is asking questions. That works especially well if your own life isn’t directly impacted by what someone else does and you can actually afford to be laid back about it (god knows that even then, we aren’t always). Compared to telling the other person that they are stupid, a key benefit is that you don’t look like an idiot if it turns out that you were wrong or misunderstood something. Chances are that you just don’t know why someone does something differently from what you consider best. They might even already have thought about your suggestion, but dismissed it for various reasons (no time, not a priority, will do it later, etc.).

Taking criticism

Whenever 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.

Related posts

  1. Dealing with hostile people
  2. Dealing with demanding people

 

From http://www.2ality.com/2011/12/criticism.html

Published at DZone with permission of Axel Rauschmayer, author and DZone MVB.

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