If we want to become better leaders we need to have good feedback. And to get that feedback, we need to find and listen to better critics.
But getting helpful feedback has one significant challenge. There is an inverse correlation between the frequency of a person’s opinion and the value of that opinion.
The more a person wants to tell you what they think, the less valuable their feedback is likely to be.
This is true for both negative and positive feedback. It may be nice to hear “your sermons always seem to be just what I need!” or “I’m always inspired by your ideas!” But those opinions, while encouraging, offer no practical value.
At the same time, the person who is always quick to tell us what’s wrong is just as unlikely to help us get better. The opinions of the frequent complainer are more about them than about the subject at hand.
This is why, if we want truly valuable feedback, we have to go looking for it.
Better Communicators Seek Better Criticism
We need to seek criticism from those who don’t want to criticize us, while not getting sidetracked by those who do.
So why don’t we do that more often? Because hearing unsolicited positive feedback feels good, so we want to hear more of it. But hearing negative feedback feels so hurtful, why would we intentionally seek it out?
The reason, of course, is that it’s only by hearing specific, constructive, solicited feedback from qualified people that we can become better communicators. Let’s look at those four key words:
Criticism is only of value if it actually addresses the issue at hand. Generalized, sweeping statements are lazy and unhelpful. We need to seek criticism from people who can be accurate and specific in targeting areas that need improvement.
If you spend any time listening to critics who are trying to tear you down instead of build you up, it will wipe you out. Destruction is easy. And cheap. And quick.
Construction is hard. And costly. And can be ponderously slow.
But no one ever built anything of value without it.
If you want great advice, you must seek it out.
If you want better feedback, you can’t just be open to it, you have to ask for it. Regularly and honestly.
Questions like “how am I doing?” “Can this idea be improved somehow?” and “If you had to change this, how would you change it?” create an environment in which great ideas can flow and the best ideas come to the top.
Anonymous criticism is less than worthless. It can be misleading and damaging.
It's essential to know something about the critic in order for the criticism to be of value.
This is one of the downsides of the new online frontier, and especially of social media. People comment and criticize because they can, even if they have nothing of value to offer.
How To Be A Better Critic
Whenever I’m considering offering my opinion to someone else, I use those four principles, but I consider them in reverse order.
First I ask myself “am I qualified to speak to this person on this subject?” If not, I let it go.
Next, I ask “has this person asked for my advice, either explicitly or implicitly?” If I think they’ve implied their desire for my advice, I confirm it and get explicit permission (“Yes, I really would like to hear what you think about this”) before speaking up.
Then, I only speak constructively. I want to help elevate their situation. I don’t need to have a solution before pointing out a possible problem, but I need to be willing to work with them on possible paths to a solution.
Finally, I’m willing to work with them on the specifics if they’re open to it. Offering advice, only to walk away saying “good luck with that” is not helpful.
If I don’t have the time to help, I don’t have the time to criticize.
When all four of these principles come together, criticism can transform from something we dread to something we learn from, grow from and want more of.
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