Why Criticism Can Be More like Poison than Medicine
When I think of key leadership qualities, decisiveness is always high on the list. The ability to quickly size up a situation and act is essential.
But sometimes we can be too fast. And that’s especially true when it comes to criticism.
Every day in America between five hundred and a thousand people die because of medical errors. Unless carefully administered at the right dose, medicine is just another word for poison.
It’s the same way with criticism.
Avoiding a Bad Diagnosis
Identifying what’s wrong with a situation—including the attitude and actions of the people involved—is absolutely necessary in business and the rest of our lives. But if we’re too quick, we risk misjudging and harming those people. I’ve certainly done it. I’ve also been on the receiving end.
When I launched my mastermind group, for instance, I caught flak for the price. Some complained it was exclusionary. Others said I was greedy. When I posted an image of the men in the group, some griped about gender and race.
I could see where these people were coming from, but they missed the boat.
As leaders, we always face criticism. We dish it out too. Some of it is helpful, and some of it is not. Like medicine, it all depends on administration and dose. But here’s the problem: If we’re quick to judge, we’re upping the odds that we’ll misdiagnose and seriously hurt someone.
With that in mind, there are at least three reasons we should be slow to judge.
1. We Sometimes Don’t Have the Full Story
How often do we judge before we have all the facts? I see it all the time. Something hits us the wrong way, and we jump to criticize. News, commentary, and social media accelerate this reaction till it’s almost reflexive for some of us.
But do we know all the relevant details? Even more problematic, do we know the motivations behind what’s happened?
Judging on incomplete information is counterproductive—and sometimes worse. Before we make a move, we should make certain we have enough information. If circumstances force us to move without all the details, we should be humble, open to correction, and ready to change our opinion.
2. We Often Project Our Own Issues
We all have hangups, faults, and pet peeves. And because we’re so familiar with our own issues, we tend to notice them everywhere we turn, even—especially—in others.
As C.S. Lewis said about pride, “The more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.” And it’s not just pride. Most failings are like that.
When we don’t have the full story, we often fill in the blanks with our own issues. It’s unconscious, but suddenly we’ve assigned motives and condemned someone when we are really just imagining things.
3. We Usually Regret It Later
Reason 3 flows from the first two. If we realize our misdiagnosis, regret comes next.
By jumping the gun, we might have harmed relationships that will now have to be mended. Thankfully, there’s a simple process for making things right when we blow it. But we can’t be cavalier. Apologies are like car airbags—good to have but best if never needed.
In social media, relationships are less involved. But that doesn’t mean that the results of misjudging are less important. For one, we can unfairly damage someone’s reputation.
And that goes for us, too. If we get it wrong time and again, we’re building a reputation as someone whose judgment is worthless.
Life and death are in the power of the tongue, Solomon said. We can’t be too careful how we use it.
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