Did you know that criticism can be beneficial in accomplishing more than you could have imagined possible?
Chances are if you have navigated through any professional endeavor, you have received criticism; from a colleague, a client, a boss or a customer.
Criticism differs from feedback in that criticism is not rooted in helping others to modify behavior for improved performance. It is an expression of disapproval, an act of passing judgment.
While feedback is necessary for true reflective practice, criticism is like feedback’s evil twin; criticism shrivels the objectivity of the giver and delivers cold, hard subjectivity to the receiver.
When we are on the receiving end of feedback that we perceive as negative, our first response is to defend ourselves and our viewpoint — especially if it is given by someone we dislike or deem as subsidiary. We entertain self-justifying dialogue and tell ourselves things like:
"The reason why he questioned my choice of visuals is that he lacks graphic design experience, and clearly doesn’t understand my thought process behind my creative process."
"That new intern suggested that I should run the meeting an alternative way? Hmm — she hasn’t been out of college long enough to make a school loan payment — what does she know about office politics let alone effective meetings?"
Even in the best of intentions, negative feedback can be hard for the receiver to accept. This is unfortunate and compels us to keep our supporters close, and regard our adversaries and their commentary as invisible — possibly keeping our blind spots alive and well.
We focus on our allies because surrounding ourselves with positivity not only feels good, it keeps us safe. We are told to ignore the naysayers — because what do they know anyway?
If we leave ourselves open and susceptible to other’s opinions, it means that we may be faced with unsolicited critique that may have an element of truth. Sometimes the truth hurts, and sometimes it is excruciating.
Sometimes the truth hurts, and sometimes it is excruciating.
But what if buried within criticism was something that sugar-coated feedback couldn't offer us?
Over the years, I have facilitated workshops for thousands of people. My facilitation style is rich with metaphor, and I try to honor the individuality of the participants, allowing them to extract meaning for themselves and for their own unique perspective. After each session, I’ve made it my practice to consider each evaluation and make adjustments as necessary to continue to grow and evolve professionally.
I must admit however, early on in my career, I wasn’t always so level-headed. It used to take me several hours to settle down from the cascade of anxiety and doubt through my mind after reading an undesirable remark. I strived for excellence, and on some level, I thought excellence was devoid of criticism.
One day, as I sat down after a session to go over my evaluations, I scrolled through to capture the feedback that the participants had left. The majority of them were glowing: