How critical are you of other people?
Criticism and complaint As with so many editions of Inspire, this one comes out of observation of myself and others in recent weeks. In discussions with friends, colleagues and family, and within my own head, I noticed a growing level of criticism and complaint being made by myself, and others, of other people. This morning while doing my Buddhist practice I was reflecting on this and thought about a character in the Buddhist writings called ‘Bodhisattva Never Disparaging'. He went around in ancient times bowing and praising everyone he met, and people did not seem to appreciate this. He met a lot of resistance from people who were either verbally abusive or even threw things at him. He would then remove himself to a safe distance and continue bowing and praising their Buddhahood!
Now I am not saying that we go about being quite like him, but I realised how easy it can be to slip into an attitude of complaint about others, rather than either focusing on their good points or directly feeding back to them anything that you find offensive or would like them to change. It was amazing how quickly after having this revelation that I started to change my attitude and behaviour.
Do you find yourself sometimes falling into a habit of criticism and complaint?
A man's character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.
What drives our critical nature? I think that when we get into a downward cycle of complaint and criticism it is often driven by unhappiness and dissatisfaction with something in our lives (and not always with the person who is the object of our complaints!). I know that when I am truly happy and content I either don't notice many of life's irritations or they make no impact on me, or I deal with them directly and quickly so that they don't linger on and cause me further irritation or anger.
Are you aware of what drives your critical nature?
The inner critic and criticising others Another cause of criticism can be our own inner critic, in that if we are hyper critical of ourselves we are often critical of others as well. The tyranny of perfectionism is often not just directed at ourselves but towards others as well (click here for 2010 Inspire on this topic). In my book Master Your Inner Critic, Release Your Inner Wisdom, I write about the importance of being able to step into other people's shoes, stop criticising them, and start to praise them. I am always reminded of the Aesop's Fable of the Sun and the Wind, if you don't know it then click here to watch it on YouTube.
Overt and covert criticism? Sometimes criticism is overt. For example, when a manager, parent or partner continually picks up on others' mistakes or just the fact that they do things differently. However, quite a bit of criticism is unspoken or certainly not spoken directly to the person concerned. We might complain to others or in our own heads, rather than say it out loud to the person concerned. Yet unspoken criticism can lead to a build up of resentment, which can slowly poison a relationship.
Is your criticism overt or covert?
‘Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host.'
What happens when our criticism gets out of control? When criticism is overt and continuous it tends to undermine the other person's confidence, it also starts to eat away at any rapport that was there and can destroy a working relationship or even a marriage! And if my feeling this morning is anything to go by it can also leave one feeling uncomfortable and unhappy from complaining about someone without doing anything directly or changing how you view the situation.
Once I started to think like Bodhisattva Never Disparaging I started to think more positively about the individual concerned and also decided to talk to them about the bit that I was not happy about, in a clear and assertive manner.
‘A man is but the product of his thoughts, what he thinks, he becomes.'
The difference between criticism and feedback When I run workshops on day to day performance management I always make the distinction between criticism and feedback. I think that feedback is about providing information about what you would like to see changing, whereas criticism is often just a complaint about something you don't like!
In the writers group which I belong to, we had a recent discussion about the concept of ‘critical friends' that a fellow writer, Bob MacKenzie, coined. This is where a critical friend poses questions to help improve your writing, which is of course quite different from purely giving a critique of someone's work. For many years I used a ‘Support & Challenge Partner' to provide peer support and challenge through posing thought provoking questions to assist each other in gaining a different perspective on what we were dealing with. Both ideas involve posing questions which challenge our way of thinking, which can be an incredibly constructive and positive process.
What positive criticism or feedback have you received recently? Have you given feedback recently which was constructive?
‘When one is praised highly by others, one feels there is no hardship he cannot bear. Such is the courage which springs from words of praise…when criticised, one can recklessly cause one's own ruin. Such is the way of common mortals.'
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