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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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      Last Updated on March 14, 2019

      7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

      7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

      Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

      For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

      Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

      1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

      A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

      It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

      It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

      How it helps you:

      If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

      Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

      2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

      Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

      Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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      How it helps you:

      Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

      Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

      If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

      Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

      3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

      Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

      Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

      How it helps you:

      This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

      For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

      Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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      A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

      4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

      To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

      A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

      How it helps you:

      One word: hierarchy.

      All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

      In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

      If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

      5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

      Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

      Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

      How it helps you:

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      Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

      If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

      This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

      6. What do you like about working here?

      This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

      Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

      How it helps you:

      You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

      Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

      Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

      7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

      What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

      As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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      How it helps you:

      What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

      First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

      Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

      Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

      Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

      Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

      Making Your Interview Work for You

      Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

      Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

      More Resources About Job Interviews

      Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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