Criticism is like a switchblade. It whips out rather quickly and pierces the soul before you even realize what’s happened. While sitting around the table with a large group of individuals, one person at the table began to obliterate a colleague. Chopping down his performance, judging his interior motivation and minimizing his contribution to the organization. The one who was speaking, while nominally connected to the organization, was not a fully invested contributor himself. I felt his thoughts were harsh, ugly and very grievous to my soul; especially from one who wasn’t quite as invested as the rest of us. You see, I’ve been around the person who was being critical quite often, and I have witnessed first-hand their dedication and commitment to their job. I started to wonder what this individual said about me behind me back.
A critical spirit destroys the one who carries it, and the one who is on the receiving end. That spirit destroys trust, creativity, openness, authenticity, responsiveness and connection in the home and office. Dr. John Gottman, psychologist and researcher, refers to it “as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.” In other words, one of the top four issues that destroy marriages.
If you have a critical spirit, I encourage you to lean in to it, explore the origins and find out what purpose it is serving in your life. Does it help you to feel safe? Does it hide your vulnerabilities and fears? What is it costing you personally and professionally? After evaluating, work toward expressing your thoughts in more authentic and helpful ways. If you are the one being criticized, remember not to give too much power to that voice. Especially from the bystanders, who are not in the trenches sweating, working and pounding it out with you. It’s good to share insights and differences of opinion are normal; but a critical spirit surpasses all of that and expires any hope for a relationship or the dreams of an organization. Be the one who inspires, rather than the one who expires. Interested in further study? Check out the book Daring Greatly, by Dr. Brene Brown.
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1994). Why marriages succeed or fail: what you can learn from the breakthrough research to make your marriage last. New York: Simon & Schuster.