In our pursuit of improvement, of becoming our best, we can often fall into the trap of always looking for the negative in every situation. In my job, I travel to packing plants and observe the workers at the plant collecting the tissue that we sell to the medical companies. As I am observing them, I am looking for anything that they are doing wrong and then I work with them to correct those things that they are doing wrong. I am keenly attuned to find any little error. I use this skill 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 is. We are in a constant state of trying to improve ourselves and being critical about performance is one of the things that allows that improvement to happen.
That is good and necessary to be successful in my business, but the other day I was reading an excerpt from the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor and one of the statements written in the book really resonated with me and forced me to think deeper about my critical nature. Shawn 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.”
The author then goes on to support this statement with case studies and illustrations. Really? Is having a critical nature really that detrimental? That really got me to thinking. How can I be an effective critic without becoming a negative person. That is a tough thing to do. I think we need to focus on being conscious about how negativity can affect every area of our lives and how easily we can find fault with everything around us.
So how do we fight being overly critical in our lives?
I came up with three solid ways to do fight negativity.
Focus on the solution, not the problem
This will perhaps be the most difficult of all the shifts that you will have to make. Even though I look for things people are doing wrong in my line of work, I am not hired to be a critic. I need to fight having my observations come across as criticism. When I find things being done wrong, I need to focus on correcting the issues, not on the issues themselves. I take on the role of being a solution-minded person by teaching the person to not make those mistakes. If we can focus on the solution instead of problem, we will not come off as being critical.
Always find the positive
No matter what the circumstance or dilemma we are dealing with, there are always a lot of positives to recognize. Instead of focusing on what someone is doing wrong, try to place more emphasis on what they are doing correctly. If you are in a situation where you need to point out to the person what they are doing wrong, consider doing it with a positive sandwich. This is where you start with telling the person something they are doing right, followed by what they are doing wrong, followed by something else they are doing right. This way the person gets two positive statements for each negative one and they are better able to handle the criticism. It’s easy to focus on the 20% that needs to change rather than on the 80% that’s working well. We need to fight this urge and put more emphasis on what is being done right.
Have a kind heart
Having a difficult conversation with someone is a lot less painful when the conversation is encased with gracious language and a positive attitude. I’ve seen plenty of people in my line of work who come in and use condescending language around the people they are working with. They really tended to look down upon the people they were evaluating. It didn’t make this person look good or smart at all in my eyes. In fact, they really came off as a jerk to me. They were definitely someone I did not want to emulate. When we are dealing with people, we need to be aware of what we say and do and try really hard not to look down on the people we work with. We may know more about a subject than the person or persons we are working with, but it is not our job to point that out to them or make them feel inferior. Approaching people with a kind heart will keep us from doing that. It is almost impossible to look down on anyone when you approach them with a kind heart. Also, when you approach someone with a kind heart, it will almost always defuse any possible anger on the part of the person on the receiving end of your words.
Our days are filled with conversations and interactions with people. As we move forward, lets challenge ourselves to focus on having a positive nature instead of a critical nature when we are interacting with people. If this is something you struggle with, try using these tips so that you can move away from being critical. Let’s face it, no one likes a critical person. The next time you find yourself want to say something negative to someone, stop and take 10 seconds to think about how you would react if someone was saying that to you before you say it to someone else. By doing this one simple exercise, you can filter a lot of the things you say that you most likely never really wanted to say in the first place.