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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Constructive Criticism is a lie!

Constructive Criticism is a lie!

Constructive criticism is a lie because all criticism is destructive.  Calling any criticism constructive is like calling a wrecking ball "construction equipment."

Yet, when we want to help someone, we use "constructive criticism."

We are all better served by understanding that all criticism is destructive.  Criticism may be needed, but we must understand and be prepared for the resulting destruction.

Criticism is destructive to interpersonal relationships.  Think back to the last criticism you received, even with the most gentle delivery real criticism hurts.

Any criticism is destructive to ego - especially fragile ego.  Some of us struggle with handling criticism well, while I think that all criticism is destructive - it especially damages people who start with a fragile ego.  I've seen project team members just switch off when presented with criticism.  This can reduce a productive project team member to a non-entity or liability to the team.

The worst case is when an executive delivers the criticism with no intention of helping to pick up the pieces.  To the project leader, this feels like a live grenade was just tossed into the team room without the opportunity of falling on the grenade to save your team.

Kitchen Remodeling

Let's use an analogy.  Helping someone to improve is like remodeling a kitchen.

The first real work uses crow bars and sledge hammers - this is called "demolition."  It is really destruction and is analogous to criticism.  Rip out the cabinets and tear up the floor. 

The demolition phase is messy and dangerous - it breaks things and throws away the pieces.  Demolition is not done for its own sake.  Instead, teams demolish (criticize) in order to prepare for a better finished product.

Demolition is kind of fun!

Demolition is also kind of fun - watch out for people who enjoy demolition (criticizing) too much!

If you demolished your kitchen, and walked away - that would not be "constructive."  Only after the complete remodel does the kitchen deliver more value than it did when we started the demolition.

Next time:  How to criticize (if you must).

This material was first presented as a speech to the Power Toastmasters club (1080) in Jackson Michigan. 

Share your constructive criticism in the comments!

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