The problem with criticism (and the opportunity)

Few of us enjoy criticism.

Over time, criticism became synonymous with stuff being wrong. With negativity. With conflict and confrontation.

Criticism is almost always difficult. We must brace ourselves for it. Prepare ourselves to react with our best selves. When delivered without either solicitation or preamble, criticism (a.k.a. feedback) can often go badly.

Thinking critically

When we think critically, we must take care to avoid just thinking about the problems. Thinking about the problems is the easy bit. Thinking about the solutions to those problems is the bit that requires depth and commitment and generosity.

Speaking critically

When we speak critically, there’s a line to be found between the too soft and the too hard.

Too soft: delivered with kid gloves, saccharin sweet, speaking around the subject rather than straight to it. (How many times were you involved in a conversation and only afterwards, minutes, hours or days afterwards, did you realise that the key thing was the unspoken thing?)

Too hard: delivered without warmth, without compassion, without any attempt to subtly communicate the point of the exercise, which is to make things better for you and me and everyone involved.

Listening critically

When we listen, whether to a friend or colleague or business associate or just to the radio, we can practise listening critically by listening actively. Often, instead of active listening, we are engaged in active thinking about what we’re going to say next.

It’s stunning how rare the gift of being heard is, but it’s in our power to give that gift every day, and it costs nothing.

The criticism opportunity

Done the right way, thinking, speaking and listening critically makes everything better.

Doing it with clarity and generosity, by taking accountability and giving support, can make our tiny corner of the world a much better place.

And what is the world but 7 billion tiny corners?

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