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IS CRITICISM BAD?

In the last blog post, when Marie became frustrated at Carl’s opinion, she criticized it by shouting at Carl and calling him names.

Illustration by Deanna Martinez

Carl ended up feeling insulted.  I then criticized Marie’s style of criticism.

Although I know that sometimes people, when criticized, feel insulted, sometimes when I’m doing my counseling routine, I criticize anyway.

Illustration by Aviva Maltin

“Are you saying I did something wrong?!” Barbara shouts.

 

Some say about criticism, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all!  An alternative position is that criticism is the mechanism by which better solutions are found and better decisions are made.

To answer the question “Is criticism bad?” we have to first make sure we understand what “criticism” is.

WHAT DO WE MEAN BY CRITICISM?

My handy Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary tells us that “criticize” means, “1: to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly : EVALUATE  2: to find fault with : point out the faults of.”

You may have noticed that in Webster’s definition of “criticize,” the word “EVALUATE” is in all capital letters.  This is the main idea regarding this concept.  Therefore, for the purposes of this blog, if someone evaluates something as positive, negative, neutral, or any point in between, the evaluator has made a criticism.

Because “criticism” is so often associated with an unfavorable evaluation, to avoid confusion, let’s distinguish between the various types of criticism by using the words negative criticism for unfavorable evaluations, neutral criticism for evaluations that leave the evaluator feeling neither positive nor negative about what has been evaluated, and positive criticism for favorable evaluations.

Some people believe only negative criticism can start a conflict.   But even positive criticism can lead to a conflict.

The Head of a Law Firm Parable

Illustration by Lois Hubertz

Linda is the head of a big law firm.  One day she writes an argument defending one of her clients.  In an effort to improve it before sending it out to the judge, she gives it to two of her assistants, Gail and Henry, and asks them to criticize it. 

A few hours later, Gail returns it to her boss with some red ink marks that point out two mistakes.  In the margins next to the red marks are clear descriptions written by Gail explaining why she views them as mistakes and how they may be fixed.  Linda, after carefully looking over Gail’s criticism, ends up agreeing with her, makes the corrections, and as a result believes her argument to the judge will be significantly better. 

Henry, in contrast, several days later, comes to Linda’s office and says that he has carefully looked over the argument and it is great.  He says, further, that he was unable to find a single fault in the argument, and then compliments Linda on how brilliant she is.  Henry offers nothing but positive criticism to Linda.      

Linda is very pleased with Gail’s work but not Henry’s.  In fact, Linda now believes she has a conflict with Henry.  The conflict can be described as follows:  Linda desires to provide arguments defending her clients with as few mistakes as possible and interfering with this Henry did not find the faults in her most recent argument.  Linda believes that Henry is guilty of acting wrong by providing useless compliments.

In this Head of a Law Firm parable, negative criticism was viewed as a good thing, and the positive criticism led to a conflict.  Hmmm.

In closing today’s post, let’s take a look at what King Solomon has to say on this topic.

Illustration by Jack Star Rubin

“[H]e who criticizes a wicked man incurs injury.  Do not criticize a scoffer, or he will hate you; criticize a wise man, and he will love you.  Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man and he will increase in learning.”(Proverbs 9)

The first sentence of this proverb tells us that a wicked man, when criticized, injures the criticizer.

Illustration by Deanna Martinez

However, Solomon declares that the wise man loves you if you criticize him.  Hmmm.  Let’s think on this for the week, and then, in my next post I’ll return to this topic.

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Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on.  This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence.  To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

CHANGING HOW WE DEAL WITH ANGER
CRITICISM AND WISDOM

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

4 Comments

  1. Dear “thefrontwindow,”

    I did look over on your fine blog what you had to say about dealing with criticism.

    I like your first suggestion, “…sit with the criticism for a few minutes to see if there is any element of truth in it. Is there something that you can learn that will make you a better person? Can it prompt you to make some necessary change? If so, be thankful for the criticism and get busy.”

    I will be discussing this strategy in more complete detail on my blog soon.

    You then recommend finding a context for the comment. “What was going on with the person who made the criticism? What does it say about them that they found this particular fault with you? Are they an unhappy, fault-finding person? If so, you shouldn’t be surprised they criticized you.”

    Yes, some people will take out on you their hurt about being unhappy. I think showing concern and empathy toward this person is often a helpful part of the process in dealing with criticism.

    You also recommend taking several slow, diaphragmatic breaths to ease stomach distress and reduce your nervousness. Moreover, you state that as soon as you hear that criticism echoing in your head, smile and immediately tell yourself five things you do well (and smile bigger). Finally, “…realize you do have value and talent.”

    All of your suggestion are worthwhile to consider when dealing with criticism. Thanks!

    .

  2. DEALING WITH CRITICISM BY DIGGING DEEPER « Name Calling, Insults and Teasing
    January 12, 2013 - 10:19 am

  3. UNSOLICITED CRITICISM: GOOD OR BAD? « Name Calling, Insults and Teasing
    February 17, 2013 - 11:20 am

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