Is criticism good or bad? Think about it for a moment. Aristotle said,
“ Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” For Bill Neely, criticism is a gift. In his book, The Gift Of Criticism, he shares the wisdom from his personal experience why we should open our hearts to 'criticisms.' I now know that potentially explosive situations can be skillfully defused or diffused, so that people can dance rather than fight, even in difficult situations.
The thought of criticism being a gift came to me while riding my bicycle one morning, in the form of a statement. “ The person who criticizes me is likely presenting me a gift. ” It happens that more often people will talk about one another in the form of criticism, complaint, gossip, or bullying, rather than talking to each other.
Initially, I was stunned if not baffled at the thought that a criticism might be a gift. However, as I rode along, I recalled a few significant criticisms and complaints from my past that were indeed beneficial and altered my life in a positive direction - for life. One occurred in high school that had to do with hygiene; several happened in college related to academics and education. In each situation, I was motivated to change based on the criticisms – though unpleasant, uncomfortable, and embarrassing. I would have preferred they hadn’t happened. Yet, because they did happen, and they were true, I took corrective action and benefitted.
Because of the thoughts while on that bike ride I became intentionally observant and sensitive to critical exchanges between people. This led me to a review of courses, workshops and other communication skills training material that specifically addressed criticism. Communication skills are often referred to as soft skills. Some people ignore or discount the importance, power, and impact of communication on their relationships. I regard these skills as foundational, strong, and flexible. The nature of our communication determines the kind of relationships we have.
The teaching and training of Dr. John Savage founder of L.E.A.D. Consulting, was my primary source for material, strategy, testing and application of tools and skills to use in responding to and presenting criticism. He presented the term – fogging – as one response to a criticism that is very likely to defuse or diffuse the potentially explosive presentation of criticism. There are other methods and techniques, and examples presented in my book.
My first practice arena was home ― with my wife and children. They provided feedback, and we all benefit by this new approach in presenting complaints, criticism, and overall communication. My next venue was the church, then the workplace.
A key factor related to training in criticism was addressing the negative mindset toward presenting and responding to criticism. Many articles, books and other material, along with my own survey conveyed the notion that most people regard criticism as harmful, negative, something to be avoided. The term constructive criticism is raised as a counter presentation of criticism or perhaps as a softer version of the same. Yet, there are many individuals who make their livelihood as critics. There are art, music, literature, science, food, and numerous other critics across the spectrum of occupations and avocations that are looked upon and sought out for their critique of a particular product or service. Since people use language as a primary means of communication ― I propose that we all become better skilled in this arena and particularly as related to criticism.
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