Avoid Criticizing and Complaining
Estimated Lesson Time: 5 minutes
You have just found out that one of your subordinates at work made a costly mistake that may cost you your job. When you confront your subordinate about the mistake, he is obviously remorseful but you proceed to vent your frustration and say everything that is on your mind anyway. As a result, he quits, and several of his co-workers are now full of resentment toward you, and have lost respect for you. Productivity in your department is way down, and ironically, you are now at an even greater risk of losing your job, all due to your inability to criticize effectively.
In both our personal and professional lives, the ability to effectively deal with people is vital to building good character and to our success. The words “criticize” and “complain” by definition are very negative, and thus bring out negative emotions in both the giver and receiver. From this point forward, vow to no longer criticize or complain. Instead, give feedback.
We have already discussed why people criticize. These are the same general reasons why people complain as well. To review, the top reasons are:
- Out of jealousy
- Out of anger or frustration
- Concerned for one’s own interest
- Concerned for mutual interest
- Concerned for your best interest
We can break these reasons down into two even more general categories. 1) We criticize and complain so we can feel better and 2) we criticize and complain to bring about change in others. Now let’s examine both of these reasons more carefully.
Dale Carnegie once wrote, “We are creatures of emotion, not logic.” In this sense, we act and react based our emotions first, then logic second. This causes us to do and say things that “feel good” at the time but we often regret shortly after. How many times have you written a nasty e-mail only to rewrite it several times over, taking out all the harsh parts before actually sending it? Control your emotions and do not let your emotions control your actions without first filtering your emotions through your mind.
Do not allow yourself to become jealous, angered, or frustrated by another’s action. Practice understanding and empathy. Would you have done the same thing if you were in the other person’s same situation? What are the reasons why the other person did what they had done? Taking a few moments to gather the facts will help you to understand, and with that understanding comes compassion.
There are times when we want to bring about a change in another’s behavior. As parents we must discipline our children, as teachers we must correct our students, as managers we must direct our subordinates, and as customers we must do our best to get value from the service or product for which we are paying. It is neither harsh criticism nor complaints that bring about lasting changes; it is eloquent feedback that causes one to want to make lasting changes. For example, telling an employee that their performance is less than acceptable, and they’d better change or they will be out of a job, will most likely persuade the employee to change, but not for a positive reason. This change will most likely be done with resentment and ill feelings, and will last only a short time.
There are two main reasons why one should neither criticize nor complain. First, criticism causes the person being criticized to feel resentment. When you criticize another’s actions or behaviors, especially in a negative way, it arouses feelings of anger and resentment in most people. This resentment is one of the most powerful relationship-killers there is. Second, criticism causes the person being criticized to justify his or her actions. It is a natural response for one to become defensive when being criticized. The most common form of defense is justification. When one justifies one’s actions, they are convincing themselves even more that they are right. This brings the parties further from resolution.
There will be times when you feel that criticisms and complaints are necessary. Ask yourself first, what do I plan on accomplishing by criticizing? Very often the real answer will be “so I can feel better,” in which case, the criticism or complaint is not necessary. If you wish to bring about a change in another’s behavior, then you must practice the art of changing people without giving offense or arousing resentment (discussed in detail later in this course). Or if you just wish to give feedback, do so in a way that leaves an overall positive impression.
Criticisms and complaints lead to resentment and ill feelings that rarely bring about positive, lasting changes. Learn to control your emotions by practicing understanding and having empathy. By avoiding criticizing and complaining, you will be better respected in both your personal and professional relationships.
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Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):
- Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
- Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
- What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)