The psychology of Criticism

The psychology of Criticism

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There are different types of critical minds, and the worst ones are those who use criticism to improve a feeling of self-worth by negating the worth of the person on the other side.

Language has a way of evolving a vocabulary that filter out attitudes in thought. There is one type of critical mind that objectively weighs the pros and cons and reaches a conclusion. There is another type of critical mind that works on the basis of emotional values and reaches a judgment. The former is called a critique while the latter is considered critical. The latter is often partnered with a stridency that leads to reactions of aggression or withdrawal.

A critique works to find ways to reach perfection by focusing on a task or output. The creation rather than the creator is the focus. Personal preferences with respect to the topic under discussion may come into play. The creator’s personal whimsicalities and irreverence do not affect the judgment of the person who provides a critique.

Contrast this with the mind of a critical person. Criticism stems from an internal sense of dissatisfaction and a continuous effort to counter the feeling. An individual who uses criticism is trying to improve a feeling of self-worth by negating the worth of the person on the other side. Criticism has its base in self-hate and is a primary relationship killer.

Imagine the players in a team who are unable to see positive traits in each other. The colleague’s sense the mutual lack of acceptance and display apathy or complete antagonism. This increases the mutual display of negative actions until the working relationship is fractured. Key issues are ignored as each individual tries to highlight the faults in the other team members while underplaying their own. The environment is fraught with negative thoughts and the team fails to function effectively.

Companies that claim to foster competition in the hope of maximizing profits fail to recognize that criticism is confused with competition. An environment that promotes an attitude of bettering the performance of a predecessor or competitor hopes to gain confidence that it progressively betters its past. However, this aim is lost when the members start to compare themselves and assume they are better than their competition merely because it makes them feel better about themselves. The overall purpose of organizational betterment takes second place to individual’s working to prove their own worth.

A relationship based on thoughts of the absence of certain qualities in the partner fails to celebrate the presence of alternate traits. So a person might berate a spouse for lacking drive or the capacity for cleanliness and fail to recognize the ability to connect with the children and be involved with their development.

Often, divorce becomes the way out of a relationship because the love has gone out of life. Love is selfish. The feeling of love thrives in an environment that involves appreciation and acceptance of the self. It grows unencumbered in the presence of mirth and continuous bouts of bonding either through shared interests or good conversation. Getting used to a spouse becomes the next step. One gets used to their habits, idiosyncrasies and specific individual traits. One accepts these until the relationship moves to a point of taking the person for granted. What is happening to the relationship? Taking a person for granted becomes the death knell and the main reason for ‘love to move out’. The couple ceases to see each other as special. The traits that were earlier lovable become the hothouse for distress.

Criticism takes the place of acceptance and reduces the scope for looking forward to enjoying each other’s company. The stresses of everyday life take precedence over the special preparedness of seeing each other at day’s end. The loss of togetherness and moments of bonding lead the way to a slow drifting apart to a point that the partners look upon each other as strangers. No wonder then, couples prefer to stay apart. Self-hate, the ground on which criticism bases itself, manifests and prevents the presence of love and acceptance.

What about criticism at the work place? An over critical boss can mean doom to a career, critical colleagues can make a person miserable and unable to function while critical subordinates can alter the course of the most well-planned projects. Back-biting, taking sides and losing track of the larger organizational purpose are common in organizations where a critical attitude is allowed to flourish. Each individual is sensitive to criticism. It is safer to wear a mask of professionalism and work within strictly defined limits rather than risk the reactions to working beyond limits and floundering.

Voicing Criticism

Ignoring criticism because of the manner of presentation can close out the possibility of accepting a potentially powerful critique that can bring positive change. If the statement is made in a tone that lays blame or makes a person appear vulnerable in front of compatriots, it will more likely be rejected without considering the merits. How should a criticism be worded to increase acceptance?

Firstly, there are no problems with people only with the processes followed in completing a task. An error in a task is not a sign of impoverished capability of the person carrying it out.

Secondly, the statements used need to be objectively worded. Avoid assumptions about the intent of the person who is being addressed, focus instead on correcting the issue.

Thirdly, be positive in tone. Let the listener know that you believe in the ability to perform and would like to add a perspective.

Fourthly, when a person complains about a colleague, insist on bringing the issues out into the open. This will prevent those who complain in order to distort your impressions about others and also helps to sort out process gaps that need to be addressed. It will also increase the security among team members that you are not biased against a few.

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