Tread Lightly

Most people I know are their own harshest judges. The bar they set for themselves is way higher than the one applied to anyone else. If you’re at all like me, you may even specialize in setting impossible or conflicting standards, so the goal line is never crossed. The natural result of such behaviors usually involves criticism, generally from ourself, but often from others, too.

Criticism is a tricky topic—especially if you’re undergoing those first, tentative phases of re-booting your life. As with anything new, missteps are a part of learning. We’re bound to do it awkwardly or miss the mark or feel stupid as we try. What happens next is key.

I think we’ve all found that critical remarks linger far longer in the psyche than praise does, and that is a tragedy. Because while criticism can serve an important and constructive role in terms of informing us of a blind spot we may have or showing us better, more common sense ways of handling a situation, delivered unkindly, criticism’s sting can wipe out any potential benefit.

Often, I have to catch myself when I am about to launch into a self-critical tirade or silently think my critical thoughts of others. One is as important as the other because silent thoughts are nearly as destructive as spoken words. There’s a well known acronym about giving criticism which I believe bears repeating here; it’s THINK.

T: is what I’m going to say Truthful?
H: is it Helpful in this situation to say it?
I: is the error Important enough to speak up?
N: is the error/fault obvious? Is it Necessary to point it out?
K: am I being Kind by speaking up? What is my motivation in giving this criticism?

Some difficult things to hear are said to be kind, so please don’t take my words as a warning against criticism, it’s just that you need to tread lightly. These days, everyone is suffering from so much information overload that it can be challenging to hear what the other person is saying. We’re inundated with a hysterical form of exaggerated arguments that the media broadcasts and many people have taken that as the form to mimic. How you deliver a message is nearly as important as the message itself.

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