We have all learnt to notice what others do wrong or don’t do, and we’re good at it! This is not surprising, because we live in a culture where the media reports predominantly on the mistakes and wrongdoings of others, so that ‘flavour’ is constantly in front of us. What’s more, most of us have been brought up and ‘educated’ through having our faults, weaknesses and wrongdoings pointed out to us – they are what drew attention to us more than our good behaviour.
However, the fact it’s normal doesn’t mean that it’s effective. Being critical of others doesn’t make us feel any better about them, nor does it improve the situation. It also makes them feel bad, if we voice it, and often resentful of us.
So what can we do that would be more effective?
Firstly, we need to ensure that whatever we are criticising is in perspective. Do they always do it? With everyone? Is it in certain circumstances? Or is it a one-off? And when are they getting it right? In most cases, the focus on their bad behaviour causes us to forget to notice the things they do well, and the times they perform well.
Secondly, we need to think about what outcome we want. Do we just want them to know we’ve noticed, or to feel bad about it? Or do we want their behaviour to improve? I assume that most of us would prefer the latter!
Thirdly, we need to consider what might help them to improve. Often, people don’t realise the impact their behaviour has had on others, so they don’t see it as a problem. For example, someone who leaves things till the last minute may not be aware that this makes those who pick up the next stage of the task anxious, in case this time they don’t deliver. Since the negative impact on others is not deliberate, it is important to just make them aware of it, not use it as an accusation.
The other aspect of helping them to improve is to identify what exactly would be an improvement. I find it useful to complete this sentence: ‘It would make a real difference if you could..’ For example: ‘It would make a real difference if you could show that you are going to complete your part of the task on time, instead of dismissing queries about it from others.’
Finally, having expressed a clear positive step to them, it is important to check out what might help them to do that. After all, if it were obvious to them, they would probably have done it already.
And of course, we also all notice our own faults and mistakes and beat ourselves up about them with our inner critic. Wouldn’t it make sense to apply this same process to ourselves?
- Get it in perspective: It’s not my constant or only form of behaviour.
- What outcome do I want? I want to feel better about my own behaviour.
- What might help me to improve? What is the one thing I can do next time the same situation occurs that would make a difference.
- What would help me to do that?
Our critical voice can be really useful in helping us and others to develop, if we use it as a starting point, an identification of a possible improvement, rather than as a finishing point, a judgement.
With that in mind, we wish you a wonderful month ahead.
Di Kamp, Leadership Director of Meta