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Constructive Criticism: that’s definitely an oxymoron

by Rick Baker
On Oct 19, 2011
Most people would agree, it makes sense to have ‘thick skin’ so when people say and do things that are negative toward you those things do not cause injury.
Some people are bullies. Nobody trusts them. But, bullies can get to you if you let them. Bullies are, by nature, offensive and if your skin is too thin then bullies can offend you. So, from a young age, we are taught how to deal with bullies. We know the intent behind the actions of the bully: the intent is to offend. So, when our willpower holds firm we can cause the bullies to fail. There are many examples of how this process can work. Mahatma Gandhi illustrated it to the world during the first half of the 20th Century.
So, when we see intent to offend coming at us we label the ‘offender’ a bully and we call up our ‘defensive strategies’ to protect ourselves from offense and injury.
The question is, egos being what egos are – how skilled are we at differentiating between bullies and other folks who mean no offense?
There is no question: from time to time we misinterpret other people’s intentions. Attribution bias can confuse us. Our moods can influence us. All kinds of things can fog our judgment.
Here is a single example, everyone can relate to: interrupting a conversation.
Interrupting an ordinary ‘everyday’ conversation
When you are speaking and someone interrupts you, how do you feel and what do you do?
We see many different reactions…here’s a sampling:
  • Some people stop talking mid-sentence and allow the other person to replace their conversation
  • Some people keep talking, as if the interruption didn’t happen
  • Some people raise their voice in an effort to override the interrupter
  • Some people politely say something like, “Excuse me, may I finish my point.”
  • Some people less-politely and more-firmly say something like, “Hey, it’s not your turn to talk.”
  • Some people get very angry and say much worse things, using much-louder voices
Whether the interruption came from an intentional bully or from an excited friend or co-worker…it could be received as an incivility. When received as an incivility, the interruption will cause the offended person to become more timid or become more vexed…it depends on the person’s ‘nature’.
Now, all that can happen with everyday occurrences…like, an interruption of conversation.
Imagine how the interpersonal sensitivities become magnified when there is more at stake. Imagine how the situation changes when one person is The Boss and the other person…isn’t. The balance of power in conversation has shifted in favour of one person. [At least, most bosses would tell you that.] So, when conversations take place the game has changed:
  • What happens when the subordinate interrupts the boss?
  • What happens when the boss interrupts the subordinate?
  • What happens when the boss criticises the subordinate?
  • What happens when the subordinate criticises the boss?
Now, when it comes to incivilities and offending other people the example of interrupting a conversation is like a shaving off the tip of the iceberg.
The list of things that can offend people is lengthy…the ways to offend are almost limitless.
As examples*:
  • Talking loudly in common areas
  • Arriving late
  • Not introducing a newcomer
  • Failing to return a phone call
  • Showing little interest in another individual’s opinion
Without much thought…each of us could add a few dozen more examples to the list.
Whether we intend to offend others or not…often…they get offended.
Constructive Criticism…no question – that’s an oxymoron.
PS: To gain business advantage, we recommend self-monitoring and “The Master Rules
A link to more about The Master Rules.
Source of this list: ‘The Cost of Bad Behavior – How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It,’ Christine Persona & Christine Porath [2009]. From this book…
The Top Ten Things a Firm Should Do to Create a Civil Workplace
  1. Set Zero-Tolerance Expectations
  2. Look in the Mirror
  3. Weed Out Trouble Before it Enters Your Organization
  4. Tech Civility
  5. Train Employees and Managers How to Recognize and Respond to Signals
  6. Put Your Ear to the Ground and Listen Carefully
  7. When Incivility Occurs, Hammer It
  8. Take Complaints Seriously
  9. Don’t Make Excuses for Powerful Instigators
  10. Invest in Post-departure Interviews


Criticism: Constructive Criticism is an Oxymoron | Master Rules


by Rick Baker
On Sep 14, 2011
Constructive criticism is an oxymoron.
You can use that as a general rule…it is a Rule of Thumb. You will find it rings true something like 99.44% of the time. The only times this Rule of Thumb will not be true are when you are criticizing someone who has super-thick skin or someone who has interpersonal strengths that go a deep notch beyond 'tolerance' and 'appreciation of the differences in people'. Put another way, the only people who will receive your criticism as constructive are people who have confidence untainted by problems of ego and people who allow others to say what they must say and do what they must do.
Those people are few and far between.
Most people do not react well to criticism.
OK, but certainly criticism can be packaged and delivered in a way that is constructive.
That’s logical…isn’t it?
Yes – that’s logical.
But, remember logical Riders must deal with the reactions of emotional Elephants. And, 99.44% of Elephants do not like to be criticised. 99.44% of Elephants react negatively to criticism. It is that plain and simple.
Carl Jung said it this way:
Criticism has the power to do good when there is something that must be destroyed, dissolved, or reduced but it is capable only of harm when there is something to be built.
Franklin P. Jones made the same point in a slightly-humorous way:
Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.
Recognizing the general rule Constructive Criticism is an Oxymoron, we recommend 3 things:
  1. Leaders should work to make their skin thick enough to place them among the few people who have developed the strength to violate the rule.
  2. Leaders should refrain from criticising people.
  3. Leaders should help followers develop thicker skin.


Criticism: Constructive Criticism is an Oxymoron | Emotions & Feelings @ Work

Constructive Criticism is an Oxymoron

by Rick Baker
On Jul 12, 2011
Objective, well-intentioned, well delivered criticism will still gnaw, rip, and tear thin skin.
Criticism will always gnaw, rip, and tear at thin skin.
That is a given.
The only question is: how will the thin-skinned person react as that thin skin rips and tears?
And, of importance will ‘motivation’ get dragged into the bloody discussion after the ripping and tearing of thin skin?
Yes it will.
Sometimes a voice will say, “You demotivate me” or something similar.
Other times the thought will be there, but it will be unspoken.
Regardless of who’s to blame, when skin is thin criticism will demotivate.
PS: Going one layer deeper, I think the 2 words ‘constructive criticism’ form an anti-oxymoron [which is a word I made up]. The words ‘constructive’ and ‘criticism’ are neither contradictory nor apparently contradictory. Quite the opposite: the 2 words appear compatible. That’s the problem. That’s why ‘constructive criticism’ is so widely used and so widely embraced as ‘good way to deal with other people’. Regardless, those 2 words ‘constructive’ and ‘criticism’ should never be paired. Together, they do not guide, they mislead.


Change: Creating Positive Change | Criticism: Constructive Criticism is an Oxymoron

Doubters don’t build!

by Rick Baker
On Jun 16, 2011
I have said and repeated, “There is no such thing as constructive criticism”.
I have said and repeated, “Constructive criticism is an oxymoron”.
While those conclusions came to me through independent thought, I have discovered many hold similar views and some folks even use the same words.
2 examples:
Both of these references describe the same thoughts I have come to accept as reality.
In summary:
  • Criticism, regardless of how carefully we try to package it, is poorly received almost each and every time it is delivered
  • Almost each and every time we deliver criticism it is destructive
  • Often, criticism is well-intended, well-packaged, and well-delivered…yet, it has no chance of being received as constructive [the door is closed and locked tight before it arrives]
  • And…people will always have differing views and there will often be a need to share those views…particularly, if we wish to create change…and, in business, we often do want to create change…hence, a major question: How do we create change without being received as deliverers of destructive messages?
That last bullet point gets to the root of business…people, interpersonal relationships, and change.
Napoleon Hill taught the value of faith.
He made it clear he meant 'faith' in the broadest sense, not just religious faith. And, he expressed his view, 'doubters do not build'. Hill's research showed every major business development and contribution had been founded on faith.
And, Hill established, ‘those who doubt do not build’.
You have ideas.
You want to build business things.
You have visions of what could be....what could be created...what could be built.
Do you have the right amount of faith to achieve 'what could be built'?
I say 'the right amount of faith' because I want to highlight a balanced approach to building business. I am not comfortable with blind faith. Few things lend themselves to blind faith. Blind faith fails too often. Few things in business lend themselves to blind faith. So, in business, blind faith is a problem in the making. Blind faith is whimsical wishing. And, wishing and hoping don’t get it done!
So, faith in business needs some boundaries.
How will those business boundaries set?
Will they set by you alone?
Will they set by you, working with others?
I think you will set your business boundaries both ways.
Sometimes, you, alone, will set the boundaries. You will use your personal values to guide you and you will use your good judgment.
Other times, you will work with other people to set business boundaries.
And, that’s where criticism arrives.
  • Doing things right is subjective…you have views and other people have views…often the views differ
  • Doing the right things is subjective…you have views and other people have views…often the views differ
  • Predicting or forecasting the future…you have views and other people have views…often the views differ…and none of us have a crystal ball…and some of us fail to recognize that last point
Obviously, we are discussing a fundamental issue here. We are discussing a fundamental people-issue with broad business application.
I think constructive criticism is an oxymoron.
I think most people disagree with that point.
Most people believe in or blindly accept the constructive capability of criticism.
And that causes more problems than are required.

DO NOT tell me what to do!

by Rick Baker
On May 24, 2011
To be clear about it up front, I am a big fan of Jeffrey Gitomer. I am able to get over the fact he favours bald people over people who are bald-challenged. And…while it is possible this is off on a little tangent…sometimes I get this strange feeling baldness is creeping up on me from behind…
Regardless, the fact is: I am a big fan of Jeffrey Gitomer. As far as I know, I own a copy of every book and every CD he has published. I think the set of ‘LITTLE BOOKS’ is a must-have for salespeople. Terrific sales advice. Terrific sense of humour. Terrific packaging. In a word: terrific.
So, I bought his new book ‘Jeffrey Gitomer’s LITTLE BOOK of LEADERSHIP’.
At page 18, I read:
When you lead people by example, there is nothing your people will not do for you and with you. Don’t tell me what to do, show me how it’s done. Then delegate. What kind of example do you set on a daily basis?”
Don’t tell me what to do, show me how it’s done.
Is that really what followers think and want?
Is that the right advice to give Leaders?
And, No!
  • Yes – Leaders need to show people how Leaders go about doing things.
  • Yes – Leaders should refrain from setting tight restrictions on followers’ actions. Each follower should be able to use his or her unique talents and personality. Followers should not feel hand-cuffed or micro-managed.
  • Yes – Leaders should delegate.
  • Yes – Leaders should set and show leading examples.
  • No – Followers must understand the desired outcome. So, Leaders must tell them that desired end-point outcome. That applies to the end-point Vision…the Leader gets to tell that to followers. And Goals…the Leader gets to pick at least some of them and tell them to followers. If followers call that ‘telling them what to do’ then…great!  That means they understand their Leader’s direction.
  • No – Leaders cannot leave all what-to-do decisions in the hands of followers. Leaders must set some structural bounds on followers’ actions. For example, the Leader must state/demand/tell things like - “You must follow our safety policies.”
The bottom line: Leaders must tell followers what to do…and limit that telling to the BIG PICTURE things.

no carrots, no sticks…no donkeys

by Rick Baker
On Mar 2, 2011
After attending Daniel Pink’s recent presentation, as I walked across the parking lot to my car that phrase found its way into my thoughts – no carrots, no sticks…no donkeys.
That was one of two major ‘take-aways’ I received from spending a half a morning with Dan Pink.
Why no carrots, no sticks…no donkeys?
Dan Pink made a compelling argument: we must alter how we deal with people if we want them to be motivated at work. In times gone by people were motivated to work under a combination of carrots & sticks…much as carrots & sticks had succeeded with donkeys.
As Dan Pink stated at one point…people are not donkeys.
Today, our people no longer perform much rudimentary work. Our people perform an increasing amount of conceptual work. And – this trend will continue to grow.
Now that conceptual work is the norm:
  • To ensure future success, we must alter our approach to motivation.
  • We must pay people enough to remove money from the table. Actually, we should pay people a little more than enough. People must feel they are being treated fairly. After that, money generates at best a diminishing return.
  • After money is off the table, our people we will be motivated by 3 things:
    • Autonomy
    • Mastery
    • Purpose
Here’s a link to learn more about Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose.
I mentioned above, for me, Dan Pink provided 2 major ‘take-aways’.
Here’s the 2nd one…
Throughout but particularly near the end of his presentation, Daniel Pink engaged the audience in discussion. He asked and he answered questions. At one point, after answering a question he paused for a moment, looked at the fellow who had asked the question, and said “talk to me…you look sceptical…talk to me more”. The fellow did talk more and he and Dan Pink shared more thoughts.
I was really taken by “talk to me…you look sceptical…talk to me more”.
Dan Pink is an excellent public speaker. It is clear he truly cares about the people in his audience. And, he wants to help them.
What a great example of how to deliver value to your audience.
P.S.: Communitech deserves a big round of applause for bringing Daniel Pink to our community.


Criticism: Constructive Criticism is an Oxymoron | INSPIRE PEOPLE - GROW PROFITS!

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