by Niall Doherty

Consider this post an ode to constructive critics.

I’ve been taking notice of more of them in my life lately. I think they’ve always been there, but for a long time I ignored them, shut them out. Now I’m welcoming them in. I’ve come to realize how important they are.

I’m part of a Mastermind group that meets every Thursday. I love it. A bunch of cool people with big ambitions show up and we talk world domination (the nice kind).

There’s one person whose contribution to the group I especially appreciate. She also annoys me the most. See, like most of us humans, I’m inherently lazy and I like to bullshit myself into believing stupid things that let me off the hook. When someone calls me on that laziness and bullshit, I get annoyed. Or at least that’s my first reaction. Then I realize that they’re right and I go do that important stuff I was pretending didn’t matter or exist.

Many commenters on this blog also serve as constructive critics. Here’s a recent example. Whenever I see a comment like that come through, my lizard brain gets all pissed off and sulks for a few minutes. But then his bigger, more-evolved brother kicks in and realizes that hey, disagreement is a good thing. This alternative viewpoint ish broadens my perspective and deepens my understanding. Yay for that.

There was a time when I turned away from all criticism, constructive or otherwise. I couldn’t get past that initial annoyance. I just wanted to be left alone with my laziness and bullshit. Ignorance is bliss and all that. Except the bliss doesn’t last. I’ve learned the hard way.

I’ve come to appreciate constructive criticism at Toastmasters, too. Some speakers love getting glowing evaluations. I’ve come to realize that those are the worst. The speaker learns nothing from them. That was the best speech I’ve ever heard and you couldn’t possibly have done anything any better! Oh right, might as well quit now then.

No, give me something to work on. A pat on the back is nice, but please throw in a few suggestions for improvement. How do I get better? That’s what I really need to know, even if that knowing stings a little at first.

Don’t worry, I’m a big boy, I can handle it.

How to recognize a constructive critic

We all need constructive critics in our lives. They help us grow and improve. You probably have a few in your life already but you don’t realize it. Here’s how you recognize them:

  • They’re often annoying.
  • They tell it to you straight, no sugarcoating.
  • They don’t belittle or disrespect you.
  • They want you to succeed.
  • They ask why a lot.
  • You can’t hate them without hating yourself.

Returning the favor

Having realized the value of constructive critics, I’m trying to become a better one myself. I’m a recovering people-pleaser, so this is a challenge for me. I grew up always opting for the cowardly path, afraid to offend anyone, avoiding conflict even when I knew it would lead to a better place.

I’m improving steadily. I’ve learned to embrace those awkward and tense moments. I’m starting to poke around in them rather than turning and running in the other direction. I try to introduce elephants and call people on their laziness and bullshit. I believe I’m a better friend when I do.

Who annoys you?

Who are your constructive critics? Have you shown them your appreciation lately? You could offer them a simple thank you, or you could annoy them right back 😉

Reminder: I’m launching A Course In Courage on Thursday. Join the priority mailing list here if you’d like to be one of the first courageous participants. Spots are limited.