Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Being Critical vs. Catch Them Doing Something Right

Question for discussion:
  • Are you more critical of the people closest to you?
I find that as overachievers, we have such high expectations of the people closest to us that we tend to dwell on what they could do better. We want them to be incredibly amazing all the time, so we get frustrated when we think they're not living up to their ability and greatness.

It could be that we are so used to dealing with driven and ambitious people all day at our jobs that we forget that our family and friends aren't employees or co-workers who get paid to do a good job. We expect them to dot their i's and be proactive in home life and in things that might not really matter much to them.

Strangely, we'll lay out our criticism in a much harsher way when dealing with the people closest to us. Maybe it's because we feel we can be "brutally honest" with them (that doesn't sound like fun), or we don't feel obligated to sugar-coat something in the way we otherwise would when dealing with a co-worker or acquaintance. Or maybe it's that we lose patience more easily or expect them to read our minds on how we want something done and get frustrated when they don't.

Of course, the criticism starts with us. We have a specific expectation that might not have been communicated well. Or maybe we have difficulty accepting something that's done differently from the way we would do it (similar to the Not-Invented-Here problem in business). This way of thinking undermines our relationships and creates an environment that isn't supportive or empowering. I know that I can personally be better about how I deliver my "suggestions for improvement" to the people around me to have a more positive effect.

Often times, we're so focused on criticizing what's wrong, that we forget to notice what's being done well. The short business book "The One Minute Manager," by Ken Blanchard, offers the idea of "catching an employee doing something RIGHT" and celebrating it as one suggestion for being a good manager. This public praise encourages them to continue doing things well and motivates others to follow suit. Everyone wants to be acknowledged for being good!

Catching a family member doing something RIGHT could be celebrating when your partner takes out the trash, or when your kids make their beds, or how much you appreciate it when your brother picks up food on his way over to your house. The more public of a statement, the better! The idea is to get everyone in on the praise so it means more. As you start doing this, I bet you'll find that a little positive reinforcement goes a long way.

When you find yourself getting overly critical, it's important to remember that we can control this perspective and these thoughts because they're generated in our own minds. We can affect the way we perceive the situation by recognizing:
  • Not everyone thinks like we do
  • There isn't just one "right" way of doing something
  • Each person has their strengths and challenges
As much as we may think our way is "best," we have to recognize that this isn't always the case. And even if it were the case, how miserable would it be to live with someone like that?! Why not focus on appreciation rather than criticism?
  • When can you catch your partner or family member doing something RIGHT and celebrate it?


Lee Knight said...

Addendum: It's also important to think of the "things you'd like to change" as short-term actions and not as permanent characteristics.

When we treat something as set-in-stone, it makes change unlikely because they feel it's just "how they are." This feeling of learned helplessness makes change even less likely, so it's more beneficial to believe that things can change, if given the right circumstances and motivation.

TM said...

Good post. I agree that I tend to be critical especially when my girlfriend does something differently from how I'd do it.

Deep down inside, I believe (incorrectly) I've figured out the "best" way to do just about everything and I'm sometimes very difficult to deal with when it's not done that way.

Dan said...

This is spot on. I'll try to incorporate it.

Hoop said...

Nice post! I agree with tm, it's sometimes very hard to watch my roommate do something differently than I would do it and sometimes I catch myself being unintentionally critical. Something else to work on!

JLB said...

Great post and something that is hard to identify until it is pointed out to you (normally by your significant other).