Criticism Is Misunderstood – I Have Proof (Pt. I)

Criticism (of the constructive variant) is the nicest thing you can give someone.  Receiving criticism in the hot seat changed my life.  I love criticism. I want you to love criticism too. But currently, it is widely misunderstood.

Do you want proof that criticism is misunderstood by the masses?  I’ve got it for you right now.  This happened just three days ago.

In a recent #blogchat on Twitter, there was a tweet going around that was being retweeted and agreed with enthusiastically and nearly unanimously.  I think it was the most retweeted statement in the entire #blogchat session.  It bothered me.  I vehemently disagreed with it.

The setting: Four bloggers were having their blogs reviewed and critiqued/criticized by the many #blogchat participants.

The bothersome comment: “A standing ovation for those who bravely volunteered to have their blogs reviewed.” (paraphrased unless my memory is perfect)

My response: “Why?  I would PAY to have this.  This is a privilege!”

In my mind, it was as if these individuals had been given a $1,000 check and were being praised for cashing it.  We should have congratulated them instead. They were the most fortunate of all bloggers that night – getting constructive criticism from a multitude of intelligent bloggers. Companies spend money on surveys for a reason – feedback is valuable.

I understand that it can be difficult to be told that something related to you is imperfect, but it is no reason to receive a trophy or standing ovation.  This minor discomfort is displaced by the avalanche of honor and usefulness of the criticism.  The blogchat session showed me how twisted peoples’ perception of constructive criticism is.

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

Most people are familiar with the phrase, “love your neighbor as yourself.”  But how many of them understand what it means?  Love is broader than romance and deeper than “being nice.”  Sometimes love might literally mean slapping someone in the face. Loving others is acting in their best interest, even if nobody enjoys it.

And how do you love yourself?  You take care of yourself.  You work hard to stay in shape and eat well to take care of your body. You push yourself to succeed in areas of importance.  You brush your teeth and bathe.  You don’t say, “I’m fine without food,” when you’re starving to death.  Don’t think you’re loving others when you tell them everything is fine (or fail to say anything) when their life is a mess.

There have been many times that I have taken criticism of others too far.  Specifically, I am still learning how to criticize others in a fruitful and loving way. My personality leans towards “brutal honesty” and sometimes I forget that my love of criticism is not shared amongst the entire human race.  I have met very few people that openly enjoy being criticized.

A Personal Example

One time, I criticized a person for how they were living – we’ll call her Jane.  I did it because I cared about Jane, but the way in which I did it offended her.  When she pointed out my harsh criticism as being unacceptable, I told her about my belief that criticism was important and essential for growth.

Jane: “So what, you want me to just say what I think about you?”

Me: “Yes!”

Criticizing woman

Ok Jane...I get it.

After I finally convinced her that she could “let me have it,” she did not hold back!  She told me that I often came across as arrogant, abrasive, and a know-it-all.  She said I seemed to think that I was perfect and had all of the answers.  You can imagine I was immediately defensive on the inside.  On the outside, I told her that I would think about it so as to avoid “instant hypocrite” status.  😛

Once I got over myself (an important life skill), I realized that I needed to listen to what was being said about me as it was vitally important feedback.  When I decided to have an open mind about the truth of her statements, I learned a lot from them.  I didn’t see myself in that way, but at least one other person did.  Since then, I have been much more careful about how I criticize others (I still mess up) so that I don’t come across in this way.

Personal Development

Personal development is dead a popular and important concept.  It is the idea that we can improve ourselves through learning and gaining experience.  Possibly the most important source of information that we can learn about ourselves from is other people.  We are so familiar with ourselves that we don’t realize all of the flaws we possess.  Not only is it difficult for us to see them when we’re looking, but sometimes we subconsciously blind ourselves to our imperfections because we aren’t comfortable with them.

When a friend takes the time to point out a potential life hazard or an inconsistency they see in our beliefs and actions, they are doing us a great favor.

Another reason to seek the opinion of others is perception.  You might not be arrogant, but what if everyone around you perceives you as such?  Habits and mannerisms convey a large amount of information that we’re not always intending to broadcast.  When we communicate verbally or non-verbally and the interpretation is incorrect, there is a misunderstanding.

Understanding Misunderstanding

Misunderstanding is perception failing to match reality.

  • It happens in sports – Tom Brady was perceived and selected as 6th round talent and he already has three Super Bowl wins.
  • It happens with Justin Beiber – Justin is perceived by teenage girls as a super-human when he is just a little boy with some musical talent and interesting hair.
  • It happens with people in conversation – you think she’s stuck up, but she’s just shy.

Misunderstanding happens on a daily basis, and it is yet another reason why criticism is very important.  You might find that criticism reveals a misconception that you had about the person.  In that case, your view of that person is made more accurate.  If your criticism was based on the correct perception, then the person has a chance to benefit from an outside perspective.

I hope that I have made a case for criticism being important and beneficial.  Criticism is a sensitive area for many people, and that is why we need to know how to do it effectively.  The next post – part II – will be on how to criticize others effectively and lovingly.  I hope you’ll stick around to criticize it.

How do you deal with giving and/or receiving criticism?  Do you like it?

Part Two: How To Criticize Others Without Ruining Everything

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.

Hugo Martins

You won’t believe it but today I just stumbled upon this exact problem and spent the day thinking about criticism. How I like and need to be criticised and get feedback. It is really important in every aspect of one’s life but specially when blogging. When you ask someone to be critic about something is great because you can expect them to find little flaws (and major ones) about the things they are criticising and those little things help you improve. Or for instance they can praise something you’re doing right. Baby steps to a better future.

Amy

I struggle with this. I know I need the feedback, but even if I’ve asked for it, I tend to get defensive. I like to ask for feedback in written form, then have my husband read and paraphrase it for me. 🙂

I don’t generally give criticism or advice unless I’m asked for it, but when I am, I try to say it sincerely and with good intentions. If someone’s asking for my advice, it’s usually because we care about and/or respect each other, and I try to keep that in mind in my criticism.

Patrick

I must respectfully disagree with your interpretation of the tweet. Though I didn’t participate in this week’s Blogchat, I suspect you may be the one misinterpreting the spirit of the tweet.

I agree with you that they deserve to be congratulated for getting the kind of criticism many bloggers (and indeed many other types of enterprises) would want. And I agree with you that people pay good money for such criticism.

But what the tweet points out to me is that there is quite a difference between paying someone for a private consultation that won’t necessarily be seen by anyone other than you, and inviting a public critique of your work for all to see (and contribute to). The former takes merely a budget. The latter takes a degree of bravery that some of your fellow bloggers do not necessarily possess, for the same reason that you got internally defensive when Jane “let you have it.”

Criticism, as important as it is, isn’t always easy to take. Taking criticism in front of everyone is even harder. I think anyone who is committed enough to improving their product that they’re willing to face that kind of criticism deserves congratulations and an ovation.

Danny @ Firepole Marketing

“Once I got over myself” – that’s the really hard part, isn’t it… sigh… 🙂

sguise

Hey Hugo,

That’s crazy that we were both thinking about criticism. I am going to start asking for criticism more often in my life. I agree – baby steps are the way to go!

sguise

Amy,

I understand. Even as I love criticism, I am still susceptible to being defensive. I’ve gotten much better with practice. Haha, your routine is pretty funny to me, but if that is what it takes for you to be receptive of criticism (rather than defensive), I say keep doing it!

I appreciate that you respect others enough not to force your opinion on them. I struggle with that at times – giving advice when it isn’t asked for.

Armand Polanski

Stephen,

Maybe criticisms are misunderstood because it was subconsciously programmed to be perceived as a negative response? Since we were young, our traditional school system programmed our mind with Criticism being connected to failure and failure connected to something negative, thus making it hard for many to realized the positive impact of a criticism.

Btw, What is a blog chat?(Got me Curious or I just spend too much time Commenting and little on Twitter)

sguise

Hey Patrick!

I truly appreciate your comment. You backed up everything you said with solid logic and it all makes perfect sense.

There were a couple of reasons for my particular perspective on this happening.

1. This was a competition – 4 out of a certain number of applicants “won” the opportunity to have their blogs reviewed. I didn’t know about it, so I didn’t apply….but I would have!

2. The winners chose to have their blogs reviewed publicly, so I don’t imagine they are the type that can’t take criticism (maybe I’m wrong).

I completely understand the positive spirit and intentions behind the comment, but if I had entered the competition and lost, it would have felt like a slap in the face. I would think, “instead of them having to ‘suffer’ through this, let me have the critique and I’ll pay for it.” It’s like praising someone for 5 minutes of work when they’re getting $5,000 for it.

Part of my point with bringing this up was that the focus was: “look at these brave souls facing the terrible criticism” instead of “these lucky people are getting valuable feedback for free.” People are way too scared of criticism in general and I think that tweet showed that. I realize this comes from my love of criticism, so it isn’t very realistic of me to expect many others to see it the same way.

I imagine this is a difference in perspective, and I fully respect and understand your view of the tweet. I don’t fault the person who said it – I just thought it conveyed something about how our society views criticism.

sguise

It really is, Danny. The more I go on, the more I realize that getting over myself is the key to a great life. 🙂

sguise

Armand, #blogchat is a twitter chat of many different bloggers, every Sunday at 9PM Eastern. Each tweet contains the hashtag #blogchat so that the discussion can be followed. It’s fun and crazy – you should join in sometime.

You’ve said something profound here. Criticism really is commonly tied to negative things such as failure. Makes sense that we’d avoid it then! I think it is also tied to hostility – as people will often criticize each other while arguing (and I will cover this in the next post).

Armand Polanski

Stephen, Blog chat sounds very exciting, I will definitely join in sometime.

Great I will be looking forward to your next post.More Power!

sguise

Great, I look forward to seeing you at #blogchat sometime!

Ashvini

Hi Stephan,
Here is how I look at the criticism.

1) It is positive and is provided by a person who really cares
2) It is negative and the provider is a negative person
3) It is negative and provider really hates you.
4) It is a negative in the garb of positive ( you are good but you can do better 😉 ) often used in corporate circles
5) It is positive but comes in a negative way( customer feedback of a product for e.g.)

I have often seen that 1 has the least possibility of occurring. Most of the time people want to offload their negative sense of worth on to others. I have often been called argumentative ( I can argue for hours that is true;)) but in the hindsight, I have talked about something that made people uncomfortable about themselves. I may have expressed my opinion but it might have made them question their beliefs. That is where they thought I was arrogant.
Then there is “i told you so ” brigade. Their criticism will always be on the negative side. They have killed so many entrepreneurs, they dont even know.
I accept your point about being misunderstood. However before internalizing anything, I would like it to go through the analysis( if indeed it means what it says). There are people whose criticism is all about my improvement( my wife and some close friends ) . I accept their feedback without any analysis.
You raised some really good points.
Thanks and regards,
Ashvini

sguise

Wow Ashvini, that was such a great, in depth comment and I thank you for it.

I agree with everything you said there. I think it relates to what Armand was saying about how criticism carries a negative association. Most of the time it is negative as you said was your experience. Not negative in inherently, but negative because the criticizer has the wrong motives or execution of criticism. There is definitely still “good” criticism to be found though!

This is one reason that I wanted to make this a two part post (the second one being on how we should criticize others). It is VERY easy to criticize others incorrectly even with the right intentions. Being very critical and analytical in nature, I’ve had a lot of experience with criticizing others, and I’ve learned a lot from it. 🙂

Ashvini

Okay … waiting for your pearls of wisdom in part 2 ( no criticism here ;)) haha!!!

Brandon Yanofsky

Criticism is so hard to take.

And it’s so hard not to respond with anger.

But I’ve realized how important criticism is. Every time I receive criticism, it’s just great advice. It’s another way I can improve upon my work.

I wish people were more comfortable giving criticism.

RILEY HARRISON

Someone once said that truth without kindness is cruelty. There are effective ways to make your point without painful bluntness.
Riley

Jovie Onyema

I like the Jane story. We receive a lot of valuable feedback when we provoke other people. In annoyance or under frustration, they say things they would naturally like to be discrete about.

I enjoy criticism (that’s after the sting is gone) cos i learn valuable things i would normally get if i simply asked “What do you think”.

Enjoy criticism. It’s the soul of progress.

sguise

“I wish people were more comfortable giving criticism.”

That makes two of us. The reason they aren’t is the same reason I can be overly blunt with someone – reflecting yourself upon others. We treat others how we like to be treated, so those who don’t enjoy receiving criticism aren’t likely to give it.

I think the emotional response is largely up to the communicator. If great care is taken with wording and focus, anger might not be the natural response.

sguise

This is true. It is something I am in the process of learning.

sguise

I don’t believe we need to provoke people to respond out of emotion. But I suppose it’s true that even if asked to give criticism, some might “hold back” in fear of hurting us. Still, I have some quality friends and family that I know would tell me the 100% truth if I asked for their opinion on something.

I agree – criticism is the soul of progress. Cool quote Jovie!

Martyn Chamberlin

Oh man, like I said, this is a really good blog.

You’re clearly working your tale off around here and we appreciate it. You’re writing guest posts on blogs big and small. That’s incredible.

Criticism…argh. I’m bad at getting others mad. I talk very frank, and it comes across as criticizing. I got someone mad at me just a few hours ago for unloading the straight dope about reality blogging.

This is something I have to work on. Thanks for the post Steve. You have a way of putting words to concepts that we spend a lot of time thinking about but can’t express. I think that’s what makes this blog so appealing to me.

Robert

Hey Stephen,

Sorry I just got round to visiting your blog now, had a real busy couple weeks! This is an awesome post, “tough love” is always the best option for me, whether I am giving or receiving it, as long as it is done in the correct way. As bloggers we should expect and embrace constructive criticism. I’ve always been a person that wants to keep it real and take people at face value (in every situation where this is possible) and expect the same to be done for me.

But most people can’t handle criticism of any sort, and also criticise others in the wrong way. I’ve regularly asked for opinions of people like Danny from Firepole, because I respect what he says even if it goes against what I have done. I think its hard for a person to grow, develop and become successful if they don’t know how to give or take criticism.

Great insightful post man. Thanks

sguise

You and I would get along very well in person. I love direct people. I’m not sure how to “unload the straight dope” but it sounds very exciting. 🙂

I’m really glad you like my blog – I like yours too. I respect that you’re willing to put yourself out there (like that Copyblogger tweet request that I saw didn’t go over too well). That stuff is what helps you rise to the top!

sguise

I am a huge fan of face value communication too. Things get too murky when there are hidden meanings and passive aggressive comments.

You have to be confident to accept criticism. It is something that questions the way that you currently are. If you’re on the edge of confidence, pointed criticism at a flaw of yours is going to push you towards not being confident. If you are confident to start with, criticism will increase your confidence in the long run as you improve yourself!

I plan to start asking for more criticism, because people hesitate to give it otherwise. Thanks for taking me deeper into thought, Robert. I like it. 🙂

Martyn Chamberlin

Lol that Copyblogger tweet is a NON subject. We’re not talking about it. Period. I’m getting so much riff over that. Argh mate.

Not to mention the fact that like, TEN people unsubscribed from my list. Enough to make a tougher man cry.

By “unloading the straight dope” I just mean that if I don’t like something, I’ll say that I don’t like it. (The good news is that I’ll state my approval too when I like something, heh.)

Yeah when we’re Internet billionaires and handsome and famous, we’ll have to meet in our private jets. Seriously, where do you live?

sguise

I don’t know about you, but I’m already handsome. My mom has told me several times. 🙂 Yeah, I knew what you meant with the straight dope – I just like to make fun of slang sometimes.

Yeah, that’d be fun. I’m in North Carolina, USA in the Charlotte area. How about you?

Martyn Chamberlin

Oh it’s going to be at least thirty or forty more years until I’m handsome. haha

I live in Bixby, Oklahoma. Sounds like we’re a few miles apart, but I’m confident we’ll meet in person some day. Maybe at SXSW or something.

Chris Jones@soundspott

Hey Guise,
sorry to call your last name- you told me people call you “Guise” when you play basket ball in Problogger. Whatever it is, I am new to your blog- It’s awesome – I like it. Criticism is review for me- I don’t know whether both are same or not actually it doesn’t matter. I am a music blogger and I often review songs and albums.I try my best to keep it lovely.I am looking for the next post you offered.
Regards
Chris

Chris Jones@soundspott

I Digg it too

Barry | A Leader Quotes Success

It must be something in the water – I’m about halfway through a series of posts on using feedback for personal development. I prefer the term “feedback” to “criticism” – it doesn’t quite have the taint of negativity attached to it yet. It might save you from the finger wag! Great thoughts, Stephen!

sguise

Thanks Barry. I thought it was something in the food, but it could be airborne for all we know.

I used criticism here because I see feedback as more of a solicited response whereas criticism is typically unsolicited. I agree that criticism definitely has a strong negative connotation to it, and I think it is misplaced (hence this article). I’ll deal with the finger wag as long as I’m communicating my thoughts honestly.

Feedback and criticism are siblings and criticism is the misunderstood one that everyone loves to hate. I think it is useful if handled with (great) care – constructive criticism essentially. I do believe that there are some people who would have a difficult time handling any type of criticism.

sguise

Hey Chris,

You are welcome to call me Guise! I’m glad you like my blog. Criticism and review have similar meanings but it depends on the context. For example, a movie or music “critic” can review or criticize movies and albums. And while you can’t review other people, you can criticize them. I hope this clarified it for you.

Daniel

Interesting article(Post).

I think Constructive criticism as apposed to Destructive Criticism is the key.

Having the foresight of knowing the individual personally beforehand, would be a distinct advantage.

sguise

I agree and I addressed this in part 2!

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