Criticism Philosophy Essay
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Not too many people can listen none defensively, or none antagonistically, to criticism. And very few of those who listen admit it when they see that they are wrong. The thing is, we think that admission of guilt, or of being wrong, or that we have made a mistake, is a sign of weakness. Yet true failure is repeatedly refusing to see your faults.
Learning to listen to criticism is a life skill that we’d all do well to master.
It is about keeping our hearts open (deferring judgment), and ensuring that we are not emotionally aroused (intimidated, irritated, etc.) by our critic (this is deferring reaction). Learning to listen to criticism is about carefully absorbing what is being said, and then honestly evaluating if it is fair, true, constructive or destructive. Only after we’ve carefully listened to and evaluated the criticism can we respond to it.
SECTION B: HOW TO TAKE CRITICISM
1). See criticism as an opportunity to work together with the critic to solve the problem; not as an adversarial situation.
Even if you can’t solve the problem together with the critic, consider the moment they criticize you as an opportunity for all of you to grow from whatever the problem is. See it as an opportunity for straightening things out; as an opportunity to hear them out, question them where you need clarity; and as an opportunity for you to clarify what needs to be clarified. This calls for changing your mindset; for changing your attitude (from an adversarial one to a positive one) towards criticism.
2). View criticism as valuable information about how to do better, not as a personal attack. Criticism, regardless of whether it is used as a constructive or a destructive tool, can provide us with valuable feedback on our performance. It provides us with feedback on where we’ve fallen short, and that (i.e., knowing what we need to improve on) is important for our learning and growth.
So even when your critic uses criticism as a destructive tool (e.g., as a personal attack, or as a way to put you down, or as a way to manipulate you, or as a way to maintain a psychological advantage), identify his intention but decide to pay particular attention to the criticism itself. Evaluate the criticism itself, and identify what feedback you may get from it. To be able to evaluate the criticism, you must …
3). Listen carefully to what is being said. This is taking up all the data, and evaluating it to see if it has any validity.
4). Watch the impulse to defend (See Defense Mechanisms): Just listen and evaluate. Know the difference between emotional thinking and rational thinking; use your head, not your heart. Don’t give in to your emotions (be it laughter, anger, fear, or whatever): simply listen!
5). And if the criticism is too upsetting, ask to resume the meeting later; after a period to absorb the difficult message, and cool down a bit.
SECTION C: HOW TO GIVE CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
1). BE POLITE AND SENSITIVE. This is a call for empathy; for being attuned to the impact of what you say, and how you say it to the person on the receiving end. The person (on the receiving end) is most likely to be defensive. S/he may resort to loud and angry words, or may even cry. Be ready for whatever reaction (including rebuffs, or attacks to hurt you back; breaking down into tears; begging you for forgiveness and sympathy; and so on. There is a whole catalog of reactions to criticism: be ready for any of them, and maintain your calm).
2). BE SPECIFIC. Don’t criticize the whole person (by using global labels or sweeping generalizations). It is demoralizing for people to know that there is something wrong without knowing what the specifics are, so that they can change. Focus on the specifics; saying what the person did well, what was
done poorly, and how the situation could be changed. The following approach is very effective (I call it the VWXYZ-approach):
V – Tell the person what they did well (“You did this and that very well.”);
W – Tell the person how happy you are, and/or how beneficial to you (or to the organization) this positive input was;
X – Tell the person what was poorly done;
Y – Tell the person what the damage means to you (or to the organization);
Z – Give the person suggestions, if you have any, as to how the situation can be changed or rescued. Tell them how they would be expected to handle a similar problem in future.
3). OFFER A SOLUTION (See Z above). The critique, like any useful feedback, should point to a way to fix the problem. Show the person other possibilities and alternatives.
4). BE PRESENT. Critiques, like praise, are most effective when given face to face, and in private. Writing a memo, letter, or email robs the person receiving the criticism of an opportunity for response or clarification.
In conclusion, you have to differentiate between criticizing someone and fighting them because of your own secret agenda. When you criticize, you want the person to improve, so that s/he can be better, or so that you can live in harmony together. But when you fight someone, you criticize out of hate or resentment: your agenda is to hurt, not to help.
SECTION D: THE MYTH OF REALITY
We all see reality through different colored glasses. Our feelings, inborn abilities, psychological make-ups, personalities, egos, characteristics, physical or emotional well-being, fears, desires, needs, wants, beliefs, and so forth, all play a role in our perception of reality. The assertion, ”THERE ARE NONE SO SURE ABOUT (THEIR PERCEPTION OF) REALITY AS THOSE WHO ARE TOTALLY DELUSIONAL,” has a grain of truth in it; at least when it comes to things that can be disputed.
Since our perceptions of reality differ, those who criticize us do so based on the perceptions (of reality) that they have in their minds. Our critics’ perception of the reality of what they are criticizing us of usually differs from ours. If one perception can be demonstrated to be 100% correct, then those on the wrong side of perception should admit that they are wrong, without any fear of being conceived as weak! The real truth is that admitting that you are wrong (when you realize that you are) is a sign of being strong minded. If, as in many cases, none of the various perceptions of the conflict-causing situation can be demonstrated to be 100% correct, then we should acknowledge that our perceptions are different, and simply agree to disagree.
Before you criticize someone, be sure that your own perception of reality is 100% correct. If you are not so sure, be sure to point out from the onset that you (and the one you are criticizing) have different perceptions of reality, but you are not sure whose perception is correct. You may then criticize the other person’s perception, and then defend your own.
SECTION E: TYPES OF CRITICISM
Behind each criticism, there is an INTENTION to either put down the one being criticized or to help them (i.e., to build them up). Whether one intends to build up or to destroy, they will use STATEMENTS which are either FACTUAL, or FALSE, or (as is usually the case) a MIXTURE of TRUTHS and LIES.
To analyze and evaluate someone’s criticism, we have to LISTEN very carefully to what they say. If we are not sure that we have heard them correctly, we have to SEEK CLARIFICATION. We have to:
I). IDENTIFY THEIR INTENTIONS (to help or to put down);
II). DETERMINE THE MANNER IN WHICH THEY CRITICIZE US (are they patronizing/condescending/adversarial or tactful/sympathetic/building up?); III). DETERMINE WHETHER THEIR INFORMATION IS ACCURATE OR WRONG. We must SEPARATE FACT FROM FICTION.
We now look at the different types of criticism.
1. CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
This occurs when your critic is motivated by the desire to help you; that is, when the person who criticizes you means well. Their manner of presenting the criticism may be good or bad, and they may possess facts, or a mixture of facts and fiction, or only inaccurate information. But the important thing is what drives the critic is the desire to help you.
2. DESTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
In this kind of criticism, your critic’s intention may be one or more of the following:
2.1). PUTTING YOU DOWN. This may be in the form of a pointless nagging, or habitual recitation of your failures, or calling you names when they criticize you, or making sweeping generalizations;
2.2). ONE-UPMANSHIP. This occurs when one tries to maintain a psychological advantage over you, or to prove that they are better than you;
2.3). MANIPULATION. The critic may criticize what you are doing in an attempt to get you to do something else. This is often called CHILD PSYCHOLOGY. o SECTION F: RESPONDING TO CRITICISM
There are two ways of responding to criticism; one is Ineffective Response, and the other is Effective Response.
1. INEFFECTIVE RESPONSE STYLES
1.1). AGGRESSIVE STYLE. The techniques used include:
– Counter Attacks;
– Insulting or name-calling;
– Loud Denials;
– Mocking (Cynicism); and
– Sulking in anger.
This style of responding to criticism is adversarial, and often leads to fights and/or resentment.
1.2). PASSIVE STYLE. In this style of response to criticism, you agree, apologize, or surrender at the first sign of (a usually destructive) criticism. You may panic and tremble physically. Or you may remain silent in a coward manner (which is different from sulking angrily). In this response style, you give your critic too much power, while sending your own self-esteem crashing rock-bottom. You do not seek clarity, and you do not even try to defend yourself. You do not try to give clarity, even where you feel you have been misunderstood, or wrongly accused. You may even take responsibility/blame for things that you have not done or said. Your fear overpowers you, and you just wish to be left in peace!
1.3). PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE STYLE. This may involve being silent, but not fully cooperative. Or you may respond passively by apologizing and agreeing to change, only to get even with your critic later; by not being fully committed to whatever you promised; or by botching it up; etc.
2. EFFECTIVE RESPONSE
I). TRY TO DETERMINE YOUR CRITIC’S PERCEPTION OF REALITY. When someone criticizes you, ask yourself what may be their perception of reality; ask yourself what may be driving him/her to criticize you. Remember that we all see reality through different colored glasses. Resist all urges to respond (aggressively or passively, through panicking or being submissive) before evaluating the criticism. If you are not sure what your critic’s perception of reality is, and if you are allowed to, ask them (See III below). If you are not in a position to ask them directly, evaluate their criticism; for you may get, from the criticism itself, an idea of what your critic’s perception of reality is. In any case, it is important to be sure of what your critic’s perception of reality is.
II). EVALUATE THE CRITICISM. It may be possible to tell from your critic’s tone of voice, from their facial expression, or from their posture, what their intentions of criticizing you are. It may be possible to tell this from context (this applies especially when you get a written critique). It is important to IDENTIFY what your critic’s INTENTIONS are.
Whilst evaluating your critic’s criticism, do not jump into conclusions, and do not rush to responding. Forget your self-esteem, and concentrate exclusively on the criticism. – As already mentioned, you first have
to identify your critic’s perception of whatever they are criticizing you of. – Next, identify the critic’s intention: Do they wish to build up or to destroy/hurt? Is their criticism constructive or destructive? – Next, determine the manner in which the critic gives the criticism: is it good or bad? Are they patronizing/condescending, or are they considerate of your own feelings? Hear their tone. Do they want to help or hassle? – You may also take into consideration your relationship with the critic. Is it a loved one? Is it your boss or superior? Is it a friend? Or is it someone who doesn’t even know you that much? Whatever the case, you want to live in harmony with the critic; but you also want to correct misconceptions. You want to clear the air, and clarify what needs to be clarified. – Check whether the criticism is accurate. Is the critic using facts, a mixture of truths and lies, or only lies?
III). PROBE. As already pointed out in I), when someone criticizes you, they have a certain perception of what they are criticizing you of, and it is your right to be sure that you correctly understand what they say.
– Ask your critic to be specific; not to make sweeping generalizations.
– Ask him to support his claims.
– Ask him whether he is sure of what he is saying.
– Ask him what his perception of the situation is, and whether he is sure that his perception is correct.
– Ask him to give examples of where you went wrong, and to tell you how you should have performed in those instances.
– Ask your critic to tell you exactly
What you must do.
Having probed the critic, and having evaluated his criticism, decide whether his criticism is constructive or destructive; decide whether his manner of presenting the criticism is good (considerate) or bad (patronizing/condescending); and whether the information he uses is accurate, inaccurate, or a mixture of truths and lies.
We now give guidelines on how to respond to (constructive and destructive) criticism.
2.1 HOW TO RESPOND EFFECTIVELY TO CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM.
Depending on your critic’s nature, he may couch his constructive criticism in terms of good suggestions for change, or he may patronize you. However well-meaning someone may be, patronizing and/or condescending (which occurs when someone tries to appear better) is bad, and is likely to provoke an adversarial reaction. This is because when someone is patronizing us, we are bound to feel uncomfortable, and we may give in to impulsive negative reactions. So even when your critic has good intentions, the MANNER of GIVING the CRITICISM may spoil it all (See “HOW TO GIVE CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM” in ‘CRITICISM PHILOSOPHY I’).
In criticizing you, your critic will use some statements which are true or false, and/or some statements whose truth values may be unknown. He may have accurate or wrong information. – If, in criticizing you constructively, your critic uses accurate information, or facts, to patronize you, or uses facts in a condescending manner, you may acknowledge the truth or validity of his point(s), but point out that his patronizing (or attempts at appearing better) is spoiling or defeating his good purpose (i.e., to help).
– If your critic puts his (accurate) information in a good manner, acknowledge the facts and thank him for pointing them out. Tell him that you are going to consider his points. – If your critic’s information is inaccurate, you may correct him. Thank him for trying to help if his manner is good; but if, in addition to using wrong information, your critic’s manners suck, tell him that not only is his information inaccurate but his patronizing or condescending is really uncalled for. – If your critic uses a mixture of facts and lies, acknowledge the facts (and give thanks for them), and correct misconceptions.
2.2 HOW TO RESPOND EFFECTIVELY TO DESTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
Let’s now suppose that you have determined, to your satisfaction, that your critic’s intention is not to help you, but: to put you down; or to maintain a psychological advantage over you; or to manipulate you.
As in the constructive case, your critic will use some statements; some of which may be true, whilst others may be false. In handling such a critic, simply acknowledge what is true and refute what is a lie. Disprove what needs to be disproved, and state your opinion on what is neither here nor there. It is important not to pick a fight, but to concentrate on the criticism.