August 29, 2009
For Best Results, Take the Sting Out of Criticism
By ALINA TUGEND
THIS may come as a surprise, but I don’t like criticism. I prefer constant praise and approval from my friends, family and bosses.
On the other hand, I feel that my friends, family and bosses should be open and accepting of any criticism I offer — always given constructively, of course.
Does the adage “you can dish it out but you can’t take it” apply here?
All right, I exaggerate a little. I don’t hate criticism. Professionally, for example, I would rather have someone take my work seriously and offer valid — even if somewhat negative — comments than be indifferent or bestow meaningless compliments.
The trick, however, is to learn to both give and receive criticism well. If we hear any comments that are less than positive as an attack, then we discard anything useful that the critic has to say. But taking all criticism to heart, no matter how unhelpful, isn’t beneficial, either.
“Most people say feedback is important, but the hidden message is, ‘as long as it’s good.’ ” said Robert Brooks, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.
Although it may seem easier to give criticism than to take it, that’s not always the case, at least not if you want to do it right. Leon F. Seltzer, a clinical psychologist who has written extensively on this subject, differentiates between criticism and feedback. In a blog he writes for Psychology Today, he notes that:
¶Criticism is judgmental and accusatory. It can involve labeling, lecturing, moralizing and even ridiculing. Feedback focuses on providing concrete information to motivate the recipient to reconsider his or her behavior.
¶Criticism involves making negative assumptions about the other person’s motives. Feedback reacts not to intent but the actual result of the behavior.
¶Criticism, poorly given, often includes advice, commands and ultimatums, making the person receiving it feel defensive and angry — and undermines any benefits. Feedback, on the other hand, looks less at how the person should change, but tries to prompt a discussion about the benefits of change.
This last point is one that Darren Gurney, a high school teacher in New Rochelle, N.Y., has thought a lot about. Mr. Gurney also coaches high school and college baseball teams and runs a summer baseball camp that my sons love. He has found that one of the most effective ways to criticize a player is not to tell him what he did wrong, but ask him to analyze what he thinks he could have done better.