Do not seek praise – seek criticism

In a little booklet by Paul Arden I found this

It is quite easy to get approval if we ask enough people, or if we ask those who are most likely to tell us what w want to hear.

The likelihood is that they will say nice things rather than be too critical. Also, we tend to edit out the bad so that we hear only what we want to hear.

So if you have produced a pleasantly acceptable piece of work, you will have proved to yourself that it’s good simply because others have said so.

It’s probably ok. But it is probably not great either.

If, instead of seeking approval, you ask, ‘What’s wrong with it? How can I make it better?’, you are more likely to get a truthful, critical answer.

You may even get an improvement on your idea.

And you are still in a position to reject the criticism if you think it is wrong.

Wow! That is quite something to take in. It’s the opposite what we have been taught all these years, what is still common practice in school and work. You are after an “A” in your exam, an approval for your business case, praise and a pay rise in your annual appraisal at work, and so on. We do it to our kids, “Fantastic effort!, or “What a beautiful picture!”.

Is this suddenly all wrong?

I don’t think so. Positive feedback is absolutely necessary. Starting with criticism and all my words will fall on deaf ears. No, that won’t work. Although as parents, managers, and team leaders we also know just telling little Johnny that he made a great effort and ‘well done team!’ doesn’t cut it either in the long run.

Shortcomings need to be addressed

You can’t start with telling people what’s wrong with it. You need to begin with a positive. This morning I saw Malaga playing Real Madrid (Spanish football). At half time it was 0-4 and Malaga was torn to bits. I would have loved to hear what the Malaga coach was saying to his team. Although I guess, he was picking on specific positive aspects first. Like the defender who got the striker under control. Then he will be analysing the things that needed to changed to stop the rout, like the midfield to put pressure on the opposition. Whatever he said, it worked and Real Madrid was lucky that they didn’t concede a goal or 2. Malaga lost the game but they had the confidence in their ability back.

Seek criticism

Paul Arden goes a step further. He sees it from the receiving person’s view and ask for a fundamental change in my behaviour when I’m looking for feedback. It is not asking the person who is giving feedback to change, he is demanding that I, when I’m after ‘approval’ for my idea, am not asking for approval but for criticism. Paul never wanted to be mediocre – Paul like Steve Jobs or Jose Mourinho (Real Madrid’s coach) wanted to be special, wanted to create something special. You cannot do that if you ask for approval. You need to find what’s wrong with it. Step over your shadow, listen to what people have to say and pick what you think is valuable and get you forward.

Can you find a fault with this?


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