Constructive criticism is evaluation intended to help us improve our behaviour. Unfortunately, it often proves to be destructive.
We all want to know ourselves better and improve ourselves. It seems that there are only two ways to do that: through introspection, which consists of self-evaluation, self-analysis and producing a balance of our actions and their results, or feedback/constructive criticism, which consists of receiving an evaluation of a behaviour or situation with the goal of helping us do and be better. Unfortunately, in several cases, constructive criticism becomes destructive.
Without feedback from others, our opportunities to progress and develop are limited, which creates a great paradox: as human beings, we try to improve and, at the same time, we try to preserve what is most dear to us, our egos. That explains the common hesitation before asking for constructive criticism from our peers on some point. Often, the experience has proven to be very negative and hurtful.
“I remember when my father told me, ‘Marc, you are so naive. You will surely succeed at nothing in life. As stupid as that, no woman will want you.’ I’m 40 years old and still doubt myself in business. I would never dare to speak in a meeting because I’m afraid of others’ judgments. What if I said something that didn’t make sense? I prefer to be quiet. And with regard to women, my father was right. I’ve never dared to approach one.”
You have surely already received a similar comment, the negative impact of which lasts for several years, but you can protect yourself.
When you receive a comment, solicited or not, you can evaluate its relevance by using one or more the following criteria:
- Competency: does the person have the required competency to offer the feedback? For example, your mechanic is not the one to tell you that you are incompetent in dairy herd management.
- Conflict of interest: does the person have a conflict of interest? For example, your neighbour tells you that you don’t have what it takes to apply to be the administrator of organization X. Coincidentally, this neighbour is also applying!
- Precision or generality: is the person giving exact or general feedback? For example, this person reproaches you for being too ambitious, domineering and not having “a good personality,” but what is “a good personality,” and how do you change it?
- Consensus: is the person the only one who believes you have an aggressive tone at the meeting? Take the time to check it out with other people.
- Friend or enemy: does the person really want what’s good for you, or is he or she envious in your presence? The person’s impression could be really biased.
By running constructive criticism through these five filters, you can protect yourself from the destructive effect that a simple comment can have, a comment that is supposedly helpful and useful, at least from the point of view of the person giving it!
Work Psychologist, professionnal speaker, author and business coach