I met a friend of mine on her way back from work. She was sporting a spectacular scowl.
“We had a constructive HR exercise at our office today.”
And then she showed me a bunch of post its on which her colleagues had listed positive and negative points about her. Just that, the positives were about one fourth in number, compared to the negatives.
“The MD asked us to take the negatives as constructive criticisms that would help us grow. He sure cares the most about me. He wrote I’m stone faced and suggested I see a personality counselor, immediately,” she spat out.
So much for growth. From what I heard later, a week of cold war and lunch break bitching followed that constructive session. Nothing else changed, by the way.
I’m sure the MD meant well [in his own quirky way]. But constructive criticism, an oxymoron if there ever was, goes against the basic essence of being human. We don’t like being told that we are wrong. Period. Even worse, when we know that we are wrong.
Human pride is a real thing. And so is the pleasure of puncturing a fellow human’s pride. I’d know, as I’ve been there…and definitely done that.
The futility of constructive criticism lies in the fact that the only person it seems remotely constructive to is the one dishing it out. The one at the receiving end is usually busy nodding and acting attentive while deciding on the best form of medieval torture that he’d like to inflict on this well wisher of his.
Criticism, even the constructive ones, is always a selfish act. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that you are doing a holier than thou selfless deed. We criticize because it feels fantastic to do so!
It flatters our pride – “YOU are wrong.”
It feeds our ego – “I know everything. You should listen.”
It makes us feel like God – “I just made your life better. Naah..you don’t have to feel indebted…oh okay, if you wish to.”
Whereas, at the other end of the spectrum, something else goes on. Instead of receiving the constructive criticism as a guiding light towards glory, we see it as a petty personal attack.
It hurts our pride – “I don’t need your effing approval.”
It sparks our anger – “Who the eff do you think you are?”
It makes us resentful – “I always knew you were jealous of me.”
Try and eke out something constructive out of that.
So, should we avoid the constant criticizing..err..constructively?
Yes, if you’d really like to see some constructive results.
No, if you’d actually like to piss that other person off [let’s face it, that’s fun too at times].
Here’s the theory. We always respond to acceptance, not judgement.
If we have done something wrong, chances are, we know about it and we are hoping that no one else noticed. The same old pride thing, you see. Hence, when a person starts nagging us about what we did wrong and how we can make it right – it makes us feel vulnerable and go on the defensive because we see it as an attack on our pride. “So you are telling me I’m less than perfect??” *horror*
On the other hand, if a person keeps telling us more about what we did right and how well we did it, we will try and do it even better (and discretely work on what we did wrong) so that we don’t lose out on that person’s approval.
You’d be willing to make an effort for a person only if you like that person. You’ll like the person if you feel that person likes you too.
And how will you judge that?
Well, for starters, that person wouldn\’t drive you up the wall trying to fix you all the time with constructive criticisms.
So begin your day with a complement, for a change. Be it to your maid, co-worker, significant other or yourself. The occasional barbs won’t feel that bad then.