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We judge others by the worst of their actions and ourselves by the best of our intentions. George Bush

Often the critical spirit that affects us the most is our own. We are hard on ourselves and when we get criticism from others it seems like overload. My son said to me the other day, “you should appreciate criticism, how else can you grow?” A good way to look at it, not so easy to do.

Criticism often feels like a personal attack. Are there ways to give criticism to make it so it’s not received like a personal attack? Are there ways to receive criticism. Is there a way to take criticism and take the sting out of it and still keep the helpful suggestion imbedded in it?

I was at Toastmaster’s the other night and we have a grammarian each meeting whose job is to note the use of language. She noted that people were making mistakes with grammar and privately talked to them about it. I think that might be overstepping the grammarian role. I think I will mention it to her, she is well meaning and very well spoken. People are sensitive to criticism, she will be sensitive if I talk to her. Did the people she talk to feel criticized or helped?

Our Toastmasters group is very diverse, for many of the people English is their second or third language. Public speaking is one of the biggest fears we all have. Anyone who gets up in front of people and puts themselves out there may be sensitive to criticism. Having their grammar corrected can seem critical to them. It would to me. I still fumble sometimes to find the right word. She did it privately which is better than publicly but usually we just give a count and note if it seems we are progressing or regressing. Particularly good phrases are sometimes pointed out. Everyone loves to be one of the ones who said something someone liked.

I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”
– Charles Schwab

Most of us find the hardest part of Toastmasters is being an evaluator. We are expected as an evaluator to give a two to three minute speech on the speech we just heard five, ten or fifteen minutes prior. We are to point out the good and give a suggestion for improvement. I try to make sure I point out more good things than ways to improve. It is the suggestion for improvement we often struggle with. We feel we are being critical. Some people are critical but not many in my experience. Many evaluators are thought too gentle but better to err on the gentle than the harsh. We have had members who never returned after getting an evaluation of their speech. I have never been present when this has happened.

We can try when we have something to suggest to say, “what would make this better is, I’d love it if.” It is also good to be specific so there is a take away. Something the person can reflect on and if they think your suggestion is good they can implement.

Sometimes we are kind in our criticism. We ponder and think and rethink how we will discuss what needs to be discussed. I think these are often less problematic. It is thoughtless criticism that jumps out at someone. If we do it too often it seems they are always being criticized like being pecked by a chicken. The first peck, well okay but by the hundredth peck they feel nothing they do is good enough. Sometimes this is ourselves being too sensitive. Sometimes it is others being too critical.

Even when we give gentle criticism it can be hard for the person to hear. When we get gentle criticism it can be hard to accept. We need to ask our self how would we receive this if someone said it to us?

We will never perfect the art of positive criticism. At least we can try not to criticize the person even when we criticize the action. I’m going to make a conscious effort to be a better person by accepting the suggestions coming my way and being less critical of people even if I have to point out actions that need improving.

“It is much more valuable to look for the strength in others. You can gain nothing by criticizing their imperfections.”– Daisaku Ikeda

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