One Quick Way To Construct Better Criticism

Here’s a hint: it’s about people.

One Quick Way To Construct Better Criticism

Given poorly, criticism tends to lead to the criticized parties involved feeling like crap–and the criticizer looking like a jerk (or worse).


If you’re a psychologist, you’d call it reactance. If you’re a regular person, you’d call it a dick move.

let’s deconstruct constructive criticism.

First we need to know the function of criticism, which LDRLB founder David Burkus supplies for us at HBR. His reasoning:

When ideas are still being developed or decisions still being considered, criticism and constructive conflict are vital to testing the value of the ideas and helping increase that value. Conflict is an indicator that diverse viewpoints are being considered and that the competition for ideas is still ongoing. During this competition, ideas are strengthened through further research, consideration or through the blending of different ideas into one stronger concept. By contrast, when everyone in a group always agrees, it can indicate that the group doesn’t have very many ideas, or that they value agreement more than quality suggestions.

What Burkus is helping us to see is that, to paraphrase Thomas Edison, if we want to have a good idea, we need to have a lot of them–then, with that thought-lumber assembled, we can whittle our ideas into a singular amazing one. It’s actually the same argument that English philosopher-economist-badass John Stuart Mill made for the women’s vote: The most vibrant marketplace of ideas is the one with the most inputs, so society is impoverishing itself by not getting the ladies’ input.

So at work, an uncritical team is one that impoverishes its own minimarket of ideas. Maybe it’s because the boss is an asshole. Maybe it’s because people think the loudest person in the room is the most correct. Maybe it’s because a shame culture is stifling all your ideas.

In other words, if we take criticism to be an exercise in logical, argumentative rigor, then it only demands conceptual intelligence–which would be well suited to work with Vulcans. But if we work with human beings, the idea-diversifying, research-prompting, idea-refining process of criticism demands emotional intelligence as well.

Hat tip: HBR


[Image: Flickr user James Cridland]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.