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The Art of Positive Criticism


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"Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough
to nourish a personís growth without destroying their roots."

--Frank Clark

Didn't think criticism could be positive, did you? Positive criticism is the greatest gift you can get--or give. However, there are certain things to keep m mind if you want to "gift" it to others.

Begin your sentence with "I' statements instead of "you" statements.

State how the behavior affects you. "I get frustrated and angry, when you ignore me," vs. You always ignore me! You make me so angry!"

Make your criticism specific.

Write it down if you forget the specifics of situations. Mention the time, place and frequency of behavior/language in question. "During this last week alone, I have picked up your towel every morning, taken your clean clothes back out of the laundry basket, picked up your chess pieces and dirty dishes four times...," vs. "You are a complete slob!" (I didnít say we donít think these thoughts, itís just best not to repeat them this way) ''Your sloppy work habits tell me you don't care for your job."

Don't exaggerate the problem.

Avoid "always" and "never" language. Since exaggerated language is rarely true, the whole statement is negated by the listener. ''You always leave a disaster behind you." ''You never get your payroll in on time."

Watch the adjectives you use to describe the thinking/behavior/situation you are criticizing.

Some are loaded with venom and anger that won't enable your criticism to be heard. Instead of saying, "Your expectations are completely ridiculous, you'll never get your work done,"...try, "Have you considered the fact your timeline expectations may not be realistic?" Or, ''Your eating habits are disgusting."... "John, I can hear you chewing from all the way over here. Please keep your mouth shut."

When offering criticism, itís wise to also suggest a solution.

Even if someone is willing to change, they may have no idea where to start or confidence to pursue a better solution- "How about if we meet for 20 minutes on Monday mornings, and you can show me your objectives/ goals for the week?" Or, "How about if we come up with a code word to use when I can hear you chewing?"

Sarcasm is the cowardís way of expressing negative feelings or criticism.

Be direct, donít assume someone "will get the gist" of your comments and accordingly make changes.

Ask for feedback.

Clarify that the person hearing your criticism heard what you meant, not what you said. Have them repeat back what they think you said needed work and the suggested solution. "I think you're saying itís frustrating and a concern that I keep turning in my paperwork late. We can meet on Mondays and see if that helps me stay to task and do things like, my payroll in on time and return client calls in a timely fashion."

Ask if there are any limitations or obstacles keeping them from doing something about their troublesome area.

(For instance, do they agree with your criticism? Do they have a different point of view that will influence your opinion about how it should be handled?)

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[Feb 04, 2013] How to Deal with Criticism Well 25 Reasons to Embrace It Tiny Buddha

At the end of the day, when I feel completely exhausted, oftentimes it has nothing to do with all the things I've done.

It's not a consequence of juggling multiple responsibilities and projects. It's not my body's way of punishing me for becoming a late-life jogger after a period of cardiovascular laziness. It's not even about getting too little sleep.

When I'm exhausted, you can be sure I've bent over backwards trying to win everyone's approval. I've obsessed over what people think of me, I've assigned speculative and usually inaccurate meanings to feedback I've received, and I've lost myself in negative thoughts about criticism and its merit.

I work at minimizing this type of behavior-and I've had success for the most part-but admittedly it's not easy.

I remember back in college, taking a summer acting class, when I actually made the people around me uncomfortable with my defensiveness. This one time, the teacher was giving me feedback after a scene in front of the whole class. She couldn't get through a single sentence without me offering some type of argument.

After a couple minutes of verbal sparring, one of my peers actually said, "Stop talking. You're embarrassing yourself."

Looking back, I cut myself a little slack. You're vulnerable in the spotlight and the student's reaction was kind of harsh. But I know I needed to hear it. Because I was desperately afraid of being judged, I took everything, from everyone as condemnation.

I realize criticism doesn't always come gently from someone legitimately trying to help. A lot of the feedback we receive is unsolicited and doesn't come from teachers-or maybe all of it does.

We can't control what other people will say to us, whether they'll approve or form opinions and share them. But we can control how we internalize it, respond to it, and learn from it, and when we release it and move on.

If you've been having a hard time dealing with criticism lately, it may help to remember the following:

The Benefits of Criticism:

Personal Growth

1. Looking for seeds of truth in criticism encourages humility. It's not easy to take an honest look at yourself and your weaknesses, but you can only grow if you're willing to try.

2. Learning from criticism allows you to improve. Almost every critique gives you a tool to more effectively create the tomorrow you visualize.

3. Criticism opens you up to new perspectives and new ideas you may not have considered. Whenever someone challenges you, they help expand your thinking.

4. Your critics give you an opportunity to practice active listening. This means you resist the urge to analyze in your head, planning your rebuttal, and simply consider what the other person is saying.

5. You have the chance to practice forgiveness when you come up against harsh critics. Most of us carry around stress and frustration that we unintentionally misdirect from time to time.

Emotional Benefits

6. It's helpful to learn how to sit with the discomfort of an initial emotional reaction instead of immediately acting or retaliating. All too often we want to do something with our feelings-generally not a great idea!

7. Criticism gives you the chance to foster problem solving skills, which isn't always easy when you're feeling sensitive, self-critical, or annoyed with your critic.

8. Receiving criticism that hits a sensitive spot helps you explore unresolved issues. Maybe you're sensitive about your intelligence because you're holding onto something someone said to you years ago-something you need to release.

9. Interpreting someone else's feedback is an opportunity for rational thinking-sometimes, despite a negative tone, criticism is incredibly useful.

10. Criticism encourages you to question your instinctive associations and feelings; praise is good, criticism is bad. If we recondition ourselves to see things in less black and white terms, there's no stop to how far we can go!

Improved Relationships

11. Criticism presents an opportunity to choose peace over conflict. Oftentimes, when criticized our instinct is to fight, creating unnecessary drama. The people around us generally want to help us, not judge us.

12. Fielding criticism well helps you mitigate the need to be right. Nothing closes an open mind like ego-bad for your personal growth, and damaging for relationships.

13. Your critics give you an opportunity to challenge any people-pleasing tendencies. Relationships based on a constant need for approval can be draining for everyone involved. It's liberating to let people think whatever they want-they're going to do it anyway.

14. Criticism gives you the chance to teach people how to treat you. If someone delivers it poorly, you can take this opportunity to tell them, "I think you make some valid points, but I would receive them better if you didn't raise your voice."

15. Certain pieces of criticism teach you not to sweat the small stuff. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter that your boyfriend thinks you load the dishwasher "wrong."

Time Efficiency

16. The more time you spend dwelling about what someone said, the less time you have to do something with it.

17. If you improve how you operate after receiving criticism, this will save time and energy in the future. When you think about from that perspective-criticism as a time saver-it's hard not to appreciate it!

18. Fostering the ability to let go of your feelings and thoughts about being critiqued can help you let go in other areas of your life. Letting go of worries, regrets, stresses, fears, and even positive feelings helps you root yourself in the present moment. Mindfulness is always the most efficient use of time.

19. Criticism reinforces the power of personal space. Taking 10 minutes to process your emotions, perhaps by writing in a journal, will ensure you respond well. And responding the well the first time prevents one critical comment from dominating your day.

20. In some cases, criticism teaches you how to interact with a person, if they're negative or hostile, for example. Knowing this can save you a lot of time and stress in the future.

Self Confidence

21. Learning to receive false criticism-feedback that has no constructive value-without losing your confidence is a must if you want to do big things in life. The more attention your work receives, the more criticism you'll have to field.

22. When someone criticizes you, it shines a light on your own insecurities. If you secretly agree that you're lazy, you should get to the root of that. Why do you believe that-and what can you do about it?

23. Learning to move forward after criticism, even if you don't feel incredibly confident, ensures no isolated comment prevents you from seizing your dreams. Think of it as separating the wheat from the chaff; takes what's useful, leave the rest, and keep going!

24. When someone else appraises your harshly, you have an opportunity to monitor your internal self-talk. Research indicates up to 80% of our thoughts are negative. Take this opportunity to monitor and change your thought processes so you don't drain and sabotage yourself!

25. Receiving feedback well reminds you it's OK to have flaws-imperfection is part of being human. If you can admit weakness and work on them without getting down on yourself, you'll experience far more happiness, peace, enjoyment, and success.

We are all perfectly imperfect, and other people may notice that from time to time. We may even notice in it each other.

Somehow accepting that is a huge weight off my mind.

TeamArete--Thoughts About Positive Criticism By Mike Dunlap

Mike Dunlap is Metro State Head Men's Basketball Coach

Wrong: "You are a dog and if you keep doing that you'll never get better."

Right: "Yesterday you moved around here like a champion getting 6 loose balls. Today, you are off two beats and just need to get 2 boards in a row to start the engine-now do it!" (Praise, Prompt, and Leave)

a) You have not only told the player something positive but also have given him a specific target.

Wrong: "I really think you are doing a superb job with your voice but you could really speak up.

Right: "I really think you are doing a superb job with your voice. Now try to speak louder because we are going to play in a packed house next week."

Wrong: "You didn't get that board in crunch time and we lost the game at that moment. Maybe if you drank a little less beer we would have won."

Right: "I know you will get that board next game because you are using the V back technique on the weakside. What do you think?" Thus, your player has specific targets and this takes away from the subjective evaluation of the instructor. Our players talk about the deflection chart as the criticisms become most powerful when the players accept them as an objective form of evaluation.

a) How? Just like quality wine, we begin to understand bad wines. Does this mean we do not continue to try other wines? No! We simply understand the depth of our experience and use caution as we grow more aware.

b) The evolution comes from using fewer words to instruct. While our database grows with time, the economy of words becomes our reward.

a) The teacher must admit his mistakes when they happen, as it is a show of humanness and accountability.

b) We cannot accept excuses in our team culture.

c) The instructor must tackle the excuse maker quickly as this can only go one way-BAD.

a) Please do not take the approach that the customer is always right-as there are times when they are not. Hence, we still want to get resolution and move on and besides we want to show emotional intelligence and maturity.

b) The technique goes something like this when confronted by a player, "I think you are a jerk, because you keep coming at me in practice and it isn't fair!"

Coach: "O.K. let's assume you are right. I'm not sure that the jerk part will help us go anywhere. Why don't we just stick to the part about me coming at you because ultimately you want to play here and so do I. Why don't you be specific about what is bother you. We will then put together a strategy that works. Again, please respect my position and you will address me with manners."

Keeping criticism helpful

Recently, I tried to analyse the reasons I criticize. Three of them were negative and one was positive.

If before 10 a.m. I have been critical of everybody, I stop and say: "Fred, what's wrong with you? What are you mad at yourself about?" And generally I have to go and make a call to apologize to somebody. But my environment won't straighten out that day until I quit being mad at myself.

Positive criticism is simply: A genuine desire to bring improvement. It can be done quietly. True positive criticism is not done in the earshot of others, unlike the three negative types that generally are done in public. Really strong positive criticism is specific and directed only to the point that needs work.

When you can positively criticize you are demonstrating emotional stability as a leader.

This week, review a circumstance in which you negatively criticized--at work or at home. Then think about what was really going on. Next, think about an example of positive constructive criticism and how effectively it worked.

Positive Criticism

The notion of positive criticism is a rather odd one. If one agrees with an author, then why bother. Why stand up and say: "ME TOO." Why not just point to the other's work and stay out of it?

Certainly the notion of what I'll call the "me too" notion is not critical thinking. Repeating someone else's notion and "signing on" as it were, is not much of an activity of critical thought.

However, a very common occurrence is this: one will find oneself generally in agreement with the work of another, but not completely. One might agree with the general argument (NOTE: not just the thesis, but the argument), but hold that the author missed another very powerful and useful argument. Or, one is in general agreement with an argument of another, but thinks one or another of the arguments could be done just a bit better; more powerfully or clearer or whatever.

A second sort of situation is that one is in complete agreement with the argument of another, but can anticipate precisely what the likely criticism of others is going to be. Thus to anticipate this most likely criticism and answer it is a service to the argument itself.

Suppose, for example that someone made an argument for abortion and the arguments centered around a woman's right to choose and various women's issues, but said not one word about a fetus. And further suppose that you thought the argument was well done, each of the reasons or considerations being well developed and logically connected to the thesis. However, you were quite sure that critics would say: "Well, suppose all this is so, does the woman's right override that of the fetus?" But, the original argument didn't say a single word about this consideration. Thus, you, the positive critic, set out to introduce that objection and to build a counter-argument to show that it is not really a very serious criticism of the original argument at all.

So we are left with two general categories of tasks for the positive critic and three different strategies to follow. Let me spell these out a bit more clearly.

  1. First situation: one is in general and overwhelming agreement with the ARUGMENT (not just the thesis) of another, but not fully. One wants the argument to work and believes one can offer positive criticisms which will make the argument even stronger.

    In this case there are two major tasks that might be done:

    1. It may be the case that in an otherwise nearly flawless argument, the author seems to have ignored an important or powerful reason or consideration which would strengthen the case without in any way detracting from the argument already given. Thus the critic adds the missing reason or consideration. There are all sorts of variations on this theme, where the addition of the new material might even require a bit of adjustment to the argument as a whole, but still leaves it essentially intact.
    2. A second case is one where the argument as given is seen as essentially correct and very strong, but the treatment could use a bit of patching up here and there, perhaps a stronger version of some reason or consideration, or a clearer version could make the argument more likely to succeed.

    Thus the critic adds to or polishes the original argument, very much on the side of the argument itself. Certainly in such positive criticism the thesis is not altered.

  2. The second case is quite different, but just as positive in the critical impact. One reads an argument and finds is virtually flawless, just one of those things one wishes one had written oneself. Yet one also realizes there is one obvious objection (or more) likely to be raised against this argument, such as my abortion argument example above.

So the positive critic recognizes this an anticipates the criticism by adding something that begins something like this (at least in spirit):

Smith has argued the thesis well, but it is likely that the critics from x perspective are likely to raise the following objectionÖÖ

Then follows:

These two areas, then, adding to or polishing an original argument, or anticipating an important and likely criticism and showing why it is not a serious criticism, are the primary areas of positive criticism and what raise positive criticism beyond the mere non-critical "me too" position of just adding ones own voice to the same argument.

There are two cautions that I need to make in doing positive criticism.

Early on in another of these class lectures I have cautioned the beginning critical thinker against the relatively empty and easy way out, of just quibbling about this or that matter of clarity and precision, and thus being able to write some intelligent criticism without much depth or risk.

This is more directed to the beginner in his or her state as beginner. At the more sophisticated levels of criticism, positive criticism of clarity and precision are often extremely valuable and perhaps what raise an argument from an interesting position to a crushing one.

At the same time the worry is, since virtually ANY and EVERY argument can use some polishing, if one doesn't want to do, or is having trouble doing serious critical activity of a negative sort or of the other sorts of positive criticism, there is this tendency to fall back on this relatively easy and effortless form of criticism.

Again, I would highly urge the beginning critical thinker to mainly AVOID this positive criticism by clarification and polish and delve into deeper waters, if for no other reason than to demonstrate to one's self (and the teacher) than one can do the deeper more internal work of negative or positive criticism.

A second worry comes when one anticipates criticisms from others and defends against them. In general this is a very valuable form of positive criticism. However, there is one common grave danger: the straw man argument.

This argument takes its name from the scarecrow. The farmer builds a man out of straw to put into the farm field to frighten the birds into believing the farmer is there in the field and thus they keep their distance. Really, it is not a farmer in the field (or in the dell), but just a straw man looking a bit like a person.

Similarly, when one claims that here is a LIKELY criticism to be made; when one anticipates what negative critics will say, there is a grave danger of building a straw man, that is, a very weak argument which no serious thinking person is really likely to make, but which has the delightful feature that it allows one to flex one's intellectual muscles in destroying it.

The positive critic must be extremely careful and honest.

If one is going to anticipate a likely SIGNIFICANT argument against the position, then create a SIGNIFICANT argument against the position, not an easily demolished straw man.

This is a serious worry, and even among very serious, honest and bright critics straw men get built all the time. Part of the reason for this is that the critic is already (by definition of writing positive criticism) INSIDE the camp of the original author. Negative critics are often (but not always) OUTSIDE that camp. Intellectuals often have a hard time really understanding and building serious arguments OUTSIDE their own camp since these positions just often don't seem very plausible. Thus, even in seriously attempting to anticipate a critic, the positive critic will mean to build a strong argument to dispatch, but ends up with some weak straw man, that no one would REALLY put forward as a criticism to the original argument, or if put forward, would never be taken seriously by others.

My case of the abortion argument is a very good one for this point. Often the two camps (the one which focuses on women's rights and the one which focuses on fetal rights) each sees the other as simply wildly and madly wrong, sort of crazy or dense beyond belief. Thus, for a POSITIVE critic to anticipate the argument from the other side, is often so hard for the positive critic that we get some very silly, nonsensical or trivial version of the other's view and not a serious argument, yet it is about the best the positive critic can do since he or she can't really understand the other school of thought at all. It happens all the time.

Thus the would-be positive critic must be careful and courageous. Don't pretend to be a critic and do the trivial, such as easy clarifications and mild strengthening. Don't pretend to be a critic and anticipate giants of criticism and then present weak straw men which one courageously, but easily, dashes.

Questions, comments, puzzles and disagreements are most welcome.



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