“I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” ― Mark Twain
Webster’s Dictionary defines criticism : “the act of expressing disapproval and of noting the problems or faults of a person or thing : the act of criticizing someone or something : a remark or comment that expresses disapproval of someone or something.
As someone has once said “put lipstick on a pig and you still have a pig.” The same can be said about the often used term “constructive criticism.” Every person but particularly leaders, managers and supervisors should know two things about “constructive criticism.” One, there is nothing constructive about criticism and two, don’t fool yourself by thinking that there is.
There are many kinds of criticism; and in my opinion, all of them are adversarial at best, negative and punitive at worst. Allow me to ask, how many of you would truly be positively excited on Monday if you received notice that your boss wanted you to meet with him on the coming Friday at 3:30 to 5:00 for some constructive criticism he has been preparing for you? With all due respect, if you told me you were really eager to hear that constructive criticism, well to put it mildly, I would doubt your sincerity. If you are like most people, the days between Monday and the meeting on Friday would be torturous, full of angst, self doubt and perhaps fear that your job or eminent raise was in jeopardy.
My suggestion is to change that method and create performance dialogue sessions, professional growth and development meetings or simply feedback and performance updates. Discussions should be centered on give and take. Issues regarding topics such as job satisfaction, goal attainment, productivity, project management and other review and progress topics items should be the focus of the sessions.
Historically criticism has been captious taking note of trivia faults; carping criticism that picks perversely at flaws; caviling criticism which raises petty objections; censorious criticism which is condemning of the person or their actions. It is all concerned with tearing down and scolding, as opposed to a discussion or dialogue that uses quality questions, analysis and mutual judging of the quality of an action or product.
While the goal of “constructive criticism” is to improve one’s professional and personal status, it wrongly starts by tearing the person down, sometimes cruelly, sometimes spitefully, sometimes with what can be interpreted as condescending and authoritarian. While this hopefully isn’t the intent, my experience tells me that it is too often the result. The impact is damaging and, too often, long lasting and the goal of the process is totally missed.
Why not make dialogue, discussion and quality question and answer be the technique of a session that is intended to improve performance. A session that is performance based and accountability driven; a session the holds dignity and self respect to the highest level and one that is success oriented?
“Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” ― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People