Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

Critic(al) Thinking

Critics are all around us; using words, body language and actions to convey their opinions, ideas and feelings. It could be someone’s raised eyebrows when they look disapprovingly at your wardrobe selection, a teacher or boss who says you’re not working to your potential, people commenting about the weight you’ve gained, potential romantic partners who don’t call when they say they will or making it to a final job interview, but not getting the position.  The impact of critics can be far-reaching and involve resolving conflicts and setting the record straight in some instances. Other times, critic’s input can be helpful and allow you to focus on changes that need to be implemented if you can look past the reproach.

Learning how to filter your critic’s input and put downs in a way that allows a positive outcome requires practice, whether the critic is someone you admire, a colleague, a stranger or even the most powerful critic – you. It’s not easy to be blamed, reproached or put down. You have to assess whether their words are meant to hurt you or help you. Some critics are malicious manipulators.

Working Through Criticism

I once had a coworker, Greg, who thrived on inflicting pain and chaos by saying false things about others to cover up for his own shoddy work. We were working together on a high profile project and encountered an unexpected and untimely delay. I was stunned to hear that Greg had spoken to my boss and accused me of a bad decision that caused the delay of a project, when he had been the only one who had authority to operate the equipment in question. Fortunately, my boss trusted me and had seen this conniver in action previously. I learned that when you do good work there may be others who want to see you put down, so you don’t pass them up. Greg demonstrated the only way he thought he would excel at work was through deception and putting colleagues down.

Friendly Fire

Other critics are motivated by being so familiar with and caring for a person, they can feel it is their place to be helpful or comfortable about pointing out your flaws. I used to bite my nails down to the quick and resented when friends felt like they needed to point out how awful they looked.  Most of us know our flaws and don’t need, and can even resent, when others point them out.

Even when comments and actions are hurtful or mean-spirited, there can be a morsel of truth in them that can be used to your benefit.  Critics, even snarky ones, can be helpful, but trying to see things with clear eyes and pick out the helpful part can be difficult, but it’s worth trying.

Problem Solve, Not Criticize

It’s easy to be a critic, but hard to be on the receiving end. Next time you start to criticize someone, stop. Put yourself in the other person’s position and think about what you would want to hear. Tina Fey put it best in her book, Bossypants:  “Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.”

Janet Walkow is the Executive Director and Chief Technology Officer of the Drug Dynamics Institute at The University of Texas and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.