Is Your Critical Nature Holding You Back?


In our pursuit of improvement, of becoming our very best, we can find ourselves always looking for the negative in every situation.  As a consultant, I’m paid to figure out how to improve communication, technology, and create new and better systems. Being critical is part of the skill set that forces me to see what could be and not just what it is. But recently I ran into a statement from Shawn Achor in his book “The Happiness Advantage” that has forced me to think deeper about my consulting skills. He writes,

“Constantly scanning the world for the negative comes with a great cost. It undercuts our creativity, raises our stress levels, and lowers our motivation and ability to accomplish goals.”

criticism critics

Achor goes on to support this statement with case studies and illustrations. Even if he didn’t, the truth in it resonates with me. How can I be an effective critic without becoming a negative person? That’s tough. In the past few years, I have been conscious about how negativity can affect every area of my life and how easily I can find fault with everything around me. Here’s how I’m fighting it.

Not a critic, but a servant. That’s perhaps the most difficult of all the shifts I have had to make over the years. I’m not hired to be a critic, even though some of my observations might come across as criticism. I’m ultimately hired to serve an organization, a cause, or a person. My contribution is not only to point out what’s wrong, but to help find a solution.

First the positive. No matter the circumstance or dilemma I’m dealing with, there are always a lot of positives to recognize.  It’s easy to focus on the 20% that needs to change than on the 80% that’s working well.

A kind heart. Difficult conversations are a lot less painful when they are encased in gracious language and attitude. I remember as a young professional watching a well-known consultant use condescending language as he reported his findings to a group of leaders. It didn’t make him look good or smart in my eyes. It made him come across like a big ugly jerk that I wouldn’t want to ever hire or emulate.

Do you agree with Achor? How do you keep from being negative?

  • Valid observation. Being overly or predominantly critical is the opposite end of the continuum that includes being overly or predominantly complimentary.

    When I am engaged to assess a client’s situation they are paying me to tell them the truth. When the need arises to deliver strong criticism my nature is to soft ball it, to coat it with a layer of sugar. But that’s not what they’re paying for.

    So I’ve developed an opening line that paves the way for positive change: I need to share some observations you are not going to like hearing, I could tell you everything is good but that would be stealing. You’re paying me for the truth and this is how I see it ….”

  • I, as many people, find it so easy to be negative. Being able to take the positive from a situation truly takes skill.

    I have struggled with this but when you are around a negative person, you realize how pointless negativity really is. Positivity leads to the ability to fix things instead of a feeling of hopelesness. When we look at a situation in a positive light, our ability to make a difference greatly improves.

  • As a fellow perfectionist personality, I love this post! Without love we become a resounding gong or a clanging symbol. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

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