Learning to Criticize Effectively

Constructive criticism is a hot topic in today’s society. With criticism slipping through the cracks, Matthew Scherger discusses how we need to be realistic about our errors so we can avoid making them again.

We have all taken an exam that we didn’t study adequately enough for. After the test results come back, most of us react by complaining to our friends: “That test was unfair”, “We didn’t learn any of that in class”, “I studied all night and still didn’t get a good grade.”

Likely your friends will sympathize with you, join you in badmouthing the professor, the class, your major in general. But how many will tell you to sit down and study better next time?
Will they help you improve for the next exam? Most likely they won’t; they’ll validate your decisions. After all it’s not your fault, it was a bad test, a bad professor or simply bad luck.

That’s what friends are for; we expect them to support us when we’re feeling down. But is that what we should be expecting from our close relationships? Wouldn’t it be better if we could rely on our friends to tell us the “terrible truth” when we need it?

From the beginning of our childhood, we’re taught that our opinions are significant. We value and surround ourselves with people who make us feel good.

While this is healthy for our well-being and great for establishing comfortable relationships with people, it has become the social norm for all interactions.

We are encouraged to “tune out the haters,” and “follow our gut.” That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t leave much room for self-improvement.

Not only do we ignore/attack opinions and ideas that we disagree with, but we are also creating a society where we are afraid to help each other.

We over-sympathize, under-criticize, avoid confrontation and don’t progress effectively.

In an attempt to spare feelings and do our best for our friends, we’re actually doing the exact opposite.

We’re losing one of our most effective ways of self-improvement: peer evaluation.

We value the opinions of our close friends; we should encourage them to air their opinions more often, even the ones we don’t approve.

Instead of taking advice as an attack on our character, we need to re-learn the value of constructive criticism: an opportunity to improve ourselves.

We need to find people who are willing to confront us for our own good, and we need to be willing to do the same for them.

So do yourself and your friend group a favor, and don’t sugarcoat the truth. If they can’t handle it, chances are they aren’t your friends.

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