The world is given to dressing up negative feedback—a.k.a. criticism—as constructive, and that may be true, but it’s usually a politically correct allowance for some people to be scathing in their views. Nobody likes to be criticised. Nobody enjoys being found wanting.
But there’s also another truth we hardly ever consider when it comes to criticism. Where is the criticism coming from? Who gives it and what are they actually saying?
These issues are not as obvious as we might think.
Seeing through the criticism is an attempt at gaining the insight which might explain the reason we’re hearing such feedback.
Does It Reveal Their Embarrassment?
If we feel criticised, especially by deeper attention from the criticiser, as if they’ve really gone out of their way to deliver such feedback, and if they’re angry, it might be that their criticism is fuelled by their embarrassment. Certainly the issue, as it stands, can be improved upon. But their embarrassment is a clue that there’s more sting to the criticism than is due just to the matter we’re being criticised for.
In other words, their feedback isn’t as controlled as they would like it to be. And even if they never own up to it, they will feel they overdid it unconsciously. When we give negative feedback, the more authentic us wants to be in control.
Besides the above, sometimes what we did we’re okay with but others are embarrassed. There may not be any need for embarrassment, and where there isn’t, like where we haven’t betrayed any social norms, their criticism reveals more their lack than ours.
Does It Reveal Their Inadequacy?
At times we can be criticised for things that don’t really make sense to us. Perhaps further on than embarrassment, the criticiser is transferring their feelings of inadequacy onto us. The important clue is an emotional one.
Where people criticise, losing control of their emotions, we should ask whether the issue is more about their inadequacy than the issue itself. This is not always the case, but sometimes it is.
The very fact that we feel criticised, unless, that is, we’re especially sensitive to criticism, is an important emotional clue. If we’re especially sensitive to criticism we may pick up emotion that isn’t there. It pays to be brutally honest with ourselves.
Checking for embarrassment and inadequacy on the part of the criticiser is just an attempt to understand the situation better—it’s not about finding someone to blame because we can’t handle truth we need to own. It’s about a more balanced perspective.
Sometimes there’s more to criticism than the words. Criticism might be more about what’s going on in the other person. We should gauge the emotions: ours and theirs. Is the criticism revealing embarrassment or inadequacy: ours or theirs? Emotional criticism, besides exasperation, is usually about their embarrassment or inadequacy.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.