Oscar Wilde once said that “criticism is the only reliable form of autobiography.” That’s because it tells you more about the personality of the critic than that of the people he or she criticizes. Astute professionals can formulate a feasible diagnostic hypothesis merely from hearing somebody’s criticisms.
Criticism is destructive to relationships when it is:
- About personality or character, instead of behavior
- Filled with blame
- Not focused on improvement
- Based on merely one “right way” to do things
On the other hand, criticism works only in the following cases:
- When you truly want to help the other person to change a behavior
- When you care about the other person and talk to them in a nice way
- When you focus on the positive side of how somebody could improve
- When you don’t belittle your partner/friend, but you recognize that everyone makes mistakes
- In other words, when it is constructive
In close relationships, criticism usually starts out with a low key and escalates over time, leading to a downward spiral of resentment. The criticized person often feels controlled. This frustrates the critical partner, who then tends to step up the criticism, increasing the other person’s sense of being controlled, and so it goes.
Criticism often fails because it embodies two things that human beings seem to dislike the most:
- It calls for submission, and we all hate to submit.
- It devalues, and we all hate to feel devalued.
However, although people hate to submit, they love to cooperate. Critical people seem oblivious to that crucial point about human nature: The valued self-cooperates while the devalued self-resists. Therefore, if you want behavior change from your partner, kid, relative, or friend, then you first need to show value for that person. Unless you want resistance, don’t criticize.
So, if you want to help your partner quit a bad habit or improve themselves, you need to understand how constructive criticism works and avoid sounding as if you’re always right and they’re always wrong. You need to learn to talk to them nicely, explaining what bothers you and why.
That’s called feedback and here’s how to give it:
- Focus on how to improve.
- Focus on the behavior you’d like to see, rather than the personality of your partner or kid.
- Encourage change, instead of undermining confidence.
- Sincerely offer help.
- Respect his or her autonomy.
- Resist the urge to punish your partner/kid or withdraw affection if they don’t do what you want.
Finally, you need to realize that just because something bothers you doesn’t mean that it’s totally the other person’s fault. It might just mean that you’re different people with different needs.
This article (The Difference Between Criticism And Feedback: How To Not Ruin Your Relationship) was published by Thinking Humanity and here it is re-posted with permission.