Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Crushing Criticism: Why it Never Works.

"Constructive criticism."  We have all heard this term (which actually, folks, is an oxymoron), and often find ourselves duped into thinking its something positive, that its something we should be fine with and feel good about.  As though placing the word "constructive" before the blow of criticism is supposed to make it a positive thing.  (Akin to when someone says, "I don't mean to offend you, but....").  As though its a method of communication/interaction that's helpful, one that should spurn change and growth.

Here is why it does absolutely none of that.  And how actually, it damages and diminishes, accomplishing exactly the opposite of what someone was (supposedly) going for in giving their "constructive" criticism.  Both, in the context of romantic relationships, colleague relations, boss/subordinate situations, as well as friendship, and even familial relationships.  This applies to all kinds of human interactions.

First off, just to give a wider context/theory/idea worthy of examination and which connects to this.  Renowned psychologist and marriage counselor Dr. John Gottman can predict with a 98% accuracy rate after watching a couple interact for a mere 15 minutes, whether or not they will stay together over the long term.  How nuts is that?!  Just 15 minutes of watching mundane conversation and interaction, and he can predict with near complete accuracy whether or not they will last.  So.  This guy knows both human interaction and social relationships.

Something Dr. John Gottman says is this: for every 1 negative piece of feedback, there need to be 5 positive ones to counter-balance it out.  Yup, a ratio of 5:1
Five positive interactions/sentiments/feedbacks/moments, for every 1 negative. 
If the negatives creep up to being more frequent than this, the relationship and connection begins to diminish.  Chipped away at further and further, and eventually, crumbling.

What does this mean in terms of negative feedback?  Well, it means that its powerful.  That even just a little bit has heavy effect.  That you need to be very careful with when and how you deliver it.

Also, within the book "The Power of Moments" by Chip and Dan Heath (who educate the reader on how to elevate moments in life from ordinary to extraordinary, both in the business and personal realm), they mention a study which found the #1 reason employees either outright quit or just become disengaged is this: lack of recognition/praise/acknowledgement of their work. 

So there's a bit more food for thought ;-).  Thus, both being criticized as well as unacknowledged for the good you are doing cause some pretty damning results.

First off, the word "criticism" is a dangerous one.  When I looked it up on, the definition was:

--the act of passing judgement as to the merits of anything.
--the act of passing severe judgement, faultfinding.

Criticism is a failure at obtaining positive behavior change.  Some major reasons for why it fails are because criticism embodies a few key things that people hate, including:

--It devalues, and as humans, one of our greatest life yearnings and needs is to know that we are of value.
--It calls for submission, and we hate to submit.
--It calls into focus the bad instead of the good.  And hones in on that perceived negative, as opposed to commending for what good might have been seen or done.
--It blames and says "you are wrong/bad/not enough."

When people feel valued, appreciated, seen for the good in them, praised and acknowledged for their work and efforts, this is when they thrive.  This is when they aim to please further.  This is when they care more about what they do, rather then less.  This is when they want to continue doing well, in order to garner more of that praise and positive feedback.

Why do people criticize?

Critical people tend to be easily insulted, defensive, judgmental, and in need of ego defense.  They were often criticized themselves frequently, though especially earlier in life, potentially by caretakers, peers, siblings, at an age where criticism can be especially painful.  Criticism says far more about the person dishing it out, the state of their heart, then it does about the person to whom they are directing it.

Many people confuse the concepts of criticism and feedback, assuming them to be one in the same.  Such that, when what they are actually doing is criticizing, their tending to tout it as "Oh, I was just giving feedback."  They are not the same thing. 

Here is how to tell the difference:

Criticism focuses on what is wrong.

Feedback focuses on what was good and then maybe how to improve it further.  The key phrase in there though is focuses on what was good.

Additionally, a lot of people will say, "I was just offering feedback, and the recipient took it so badly.  They were too sensitive.  They took it wrong."  (So, not only is the critical person being critical in the first place in focusing on and delivering the negative- they are also blaming the person receiving such for feeling upset about it.  That's a lot of finger pointing in the other direction...a lot of condemning). 

The reason people likely grow offended or resentful of those who are potentially offering them feedback (if it truly isn't criticism) can be because people respond to tone, not what was your intention If you offer feedback though in a cutting, nasty, rude, or condescending tone, it will still be heard as criticizing, even if it isn't.

Or, the recipient might feel upset or defensive because actually, the person giving feedback is actually dishing out criticism and merely labeling it as feedback (when in reality, it isn't).

So to reiterate:

---Feedback focuses on what is good and what went well, with the follow up being some potential improvements for next time. 


---Tone is crucial.  If delivered in a nasty, condescending, cutting, or chiding tone, it will still be received as criticism, even if what you are saying is actually positively focused.

Finally, what happens when people are continually criticized, over, and over again?  The negative continually being focused on.  Always what they did wrong, or what they missed, or what could have been better, or what wasn't so great.  And if only occasionally or rarely is there any positive feedback thrown into that mix.  What happens then?

Resentment and bitterness build.  Eventually, when quickly learning that most of the time, ones efforts, ideas, and actions are met with continual focus on what is wrong with them, ways they came up short, the areas in which they were wrong, people give up.  They grow disheartened, exhausted, and decide to stop trying.  They lose interest and heart.  Criticism is not how to produce change.  Its how you produce, with a bit of time passing, bitter, resentful people who will eventually throw up their hands and walk away (at least if they have any semblance of self esteem and clarity of thinking).

Continually criticizing someone is akin to chipping away via chisel at a statue.  Eventually, on bits and pieces breaking off more and more as time passes, it crumbles all together.

Want to see far better results from your subordinates?  Find yourself wishing those around you might do certain things differently?  Feeling frustrated with someone you love for a mistake they made?  Do not criticize.  It will only make things worse, both in the short term and long.  Dimming their spirit, ushering in shame and disheartenment, and eventually if you continue on a routine path of critical communication, resulting in bitterness, resentment, and the throwing up of ones hands.

Instead, lift those around you up.  Commend them for the awesome and the good that you see within.  Remark on what they do thats wonderful, worthwhile, and that which makes you happy.  Focus on the ways they have improved, on what they do and have done right.  When you treat others as though they already have the qualities you might wish they showcased more abundantly, they have a funny way of subconsciously wanting to prove you right and slowly but surely becoming more the person you think them to be (in a great way).

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