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Last Updated on January 30, 2018

Why a Criticism Is Better Than a Compliment

Why a Criticism Is Better Than a Compliment

Think back to the last time you received a compliment and the last time you were criticized. No doubt, when you received the compliment, you felt good – and when you received the criticism, you felt upset and wanted to reject it.

You shouldn’t be surprised by your reaction to the negative comment, as it’s a human’s survival mechanism to avoid being criticized. Clearly, we don’t want to be seen as failures, so we’d rather shut our eyes and cover our ears than have to take any criticisms from others.

However, there’s a serious problem with this approach. Namely, by doing our utmost to avoid being criticized, we allow ourselves to travel on a never-ending highway of mediocrity.

Without receiving negative feedback and criticisms from others, our growth and opportunities become stunted. And in the long term, we’re not only liable to fail – but to fail badly.

The Microsoft KIN is an example of how lacking criticisms leads to a great failure. Launched in 2010, this smartphone was a major failure despite its $1 billion development and marketing costs. Unbelievably, the phone only lasted on the market for 48 days. The problem? Microsoft failed to do comprehensive testing of the smartphone with the target demographic. It was only after the phone went on sale that it became blatantly obvious that most 15 to 30-year-olds preferred Androids, BlackBerrys and iPhones to the Microsoft KIN.[1]

If criticism and feedback had been received by the target demographic while the phone was in development, Microsoft could have avoided the huge embarrassment and financial loss that occurred. As the story above demonstrates, early criticism is a necessary factor for future success.

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Excessive praise weakens your motivation

I believe that criticism is better than compliments. But why do I think that? Well, let me give you a metaphor that will explain my rationale.

Picture in your mind praise being a type of health food. Now, no one would argue that healthy nutrition is a bad thing. However, what’s good for you in small or measured dosages can be bad for you if you take too much of it. You may be surprised to hear this even applies to your water consumption.[2] And your fruit consumption too.[3]

    Clearly, too much food or drink – no matter how healthy they may be – can make us ill. For optimum health, we need a balanced intake of healthy food and drink.

    It’s the same with compliments. Receiving them from time-to-time is a good thing, but if they’re all you ever hear, then they’re likely to have a negative impact on your ability to achieve things in life.

    Excessive compliments take us away from our original motivation of simply enjoying an activity. We start doing the activity purely for the sake of receiving ego-satisfying praise.

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    However, enough time being stuck in the latter, means we become imprisoned by praise. Without the expectation of praise, our motivation to complete things begins to be lost.

    As an example of this, think back to a time when you were learning a new sport. If your coach only praised you, then you’d have missed out on being shown what things you were doing wrong. And as a consequence, your ability to learn and refine your techniques would have be diminished.

    Criticism encourages growth

      Just to be clear, I’m not talking about trolls or abusive comments, I’m talking about constructive criticism, which I like to think of as ‘healthy criticism’. Feedback that helps to make you stronger.

      If you always think you’re right but don’t get feedback from anyone else, how do you know for sure that what you’re doing is any good? Listening and acting on honest views will tell you precisely what you’re doing well – and what you can do better.

      This type of feedback forces you to evaluate your actions and the way you work. If you use constructive criticism wisely, it can guide you away from bad practices and move you towards good ones.

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      The right kind of criticism is honest feedback that will benefit you.

      Grow strong through the power of criticism

      Now that you’re familiar with the benefits of constructive criticism, let’s delve into several ways that you can use it to boost your productivity and success in life.

      Criticism is generally more actionable than compliments.

      For example, imagine you’re learning to play guitar, and in your first public performance your tutor says: “You did well.” Now, while these might be welcome words to your ears, they’re not as useful in helping you improve as: “Your timing needs some work.” With this piece of advice, you have specific guidance on how to quickly improve your performance skills. (You might need to spend hours playing alongside a metronome.)

      Actively seek criticism by asking for feedback.

      This could be in the form of a question.

      Continuing the guitar playing example, you might ask your tutor (or other people who heard your performance): “What could I have done better?” You could also ask very specific questions. For instance: “Did my playing in the introduction sound in tune?”

      Let’s be honest, most people don’t know how to give feedback – they typically offer vague comments filled with emotions. By asking specific questions, you’ll gain valuable feedback that will help you learn and develop quickly.

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      However, asking questions should also be to gain useful feedback, not to show you have doubts about your abilities and skills.

      Take criticism with patience.

      When you take criticism, I strongly recommend the following:

      • Be quiet and listen. Try to listen to as many perspectives as possible to get a full picture and more points of view.
      • Ask clarifying questions. Aim to understand what the other person means when they criticize you. Don’t make an initial judgement that they’re wrong. Understand first, then start to process their opinions.
      • Ask for suggestions to improve, but always refer back to your goals. After clarifying the problem, seek for suggestions, but don’t just try to satisfy others’ needs. Instead, refer back to your goals to see how improvements can align with your original intentions.
      • Take control of the process. Pick the right person. Typically, this would be someone who is honest, impartial but wants the best for you.

      Rapid feedback is important.

      Speed is also important when it comes to receiving feedback.

      The sooner you get feedback from others, the faster you’ll know what to improve before going ahead with your plans or work. For example, if you’re planning on setting up your own business, ask some interested friends to provide feedback on your ideas. Do this before you launch your business, and you’ll save yourself valuable time learning the long and hard way.

      Seek criticism instead of praise

      The Power of Positive Thinking author Norman Vincent Peale said it well,

      The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.

      How true that is.

      Fortunately, you now have the keys to help you move away from seeking praise – to instead, seeking constructive criticism. And once you start putting these keys to use, you’ll unlock the doors to a whole new way of learning, developing and succeeding.

      Reference

      More by this author

      Brian Lee

      Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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      The Gentle Art of Saying No

      The Gentle Art of Saying No

      No!

      It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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      But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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      What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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      But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

      1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
      2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
      3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
      4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
      5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
      6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
      7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
      8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
      9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
      10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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