Criticism: The End of Effective Communication
Updated: Jun 24, 2022
By Khalid Alsadek
Edited by Shadman Zahir
"It is neither wise nor necessary to criticize others to make your messages more effective, more important, or more newsworthy." - Dale Carnegie in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age
Criticism is all around us. Not constructive, but destructive.
Wherever we turn, we get bombarded with criticism on how we should live our lives, do things, eat, sleep, and even breathe.
People always blame the imperfections of the world based on how people conduct themselves.
Find yourself in an office space. You overhear two coworkers having an ongoing argument about a project that has been postponed and is past deadline but still needs to be finished. This is a project of utmost importance. Everyone was putting a lot of effort into it when one of the employees made the decision to snap at another employee out of rage.
While the coworker who was getting yelled at contributed to the project, some say he was a slacker and put little effort. Your coworker decided to confront him. Although good points were given, there were many instances of personal attacks and criticism.
The coworker on the receiving end puts up a wall and decides to ignore the attacker's points, no matter how justified they may seem.
Dale Carnegie has often spoken of the issue of criticism in our world. Being one of the most famous American writers in the 20th century, he is arguably a master of interpersonal communication and self-development. One of his famous books which speaks about this issue, How to Win Friends and Influence People, has been sold over 30 million times since first published in October 1936, making it one of the most successful books of all time according to The New York Times.
The extension of this book, “The Digital Age” expands on to how to communicate in the 21st century. Carnegie mentions in the book "Consider the last time a colleague came down on you for something you said or did. Are we to suppose his words made you want to give the guy a hug and buy him lunch? Or did you want to hide an open can of sardines in his desk?"
Carnegie says if you knowingly do wrong, you will not acknowledge your fault to someone who attacks your personality.
Imagine you are the person getting condescended. You are going to override and discard any words that come out of your colleague’s mouth. You will subconsciously find them more irritable and less receptive to their message.
Their communication becomes ineffective because you are not willing to partake in it.
On the other hand, the colleague that lost his cool is all over the place. He cannot carry himself, and is now tossing any words that come to his head. The moral judgment in him is tight shut.
In communication between two parties, there is a sender and a receiver. There is a leverage aspect that plays between two of them. The sender sends a message, while the receiver receives the message. The one who is calm and collected, will do himself best to de-escalate any tension with the other. While, the other one may be overly attached with their beliefs and can torpedo the entire conversation.
One may argue that the sender in this example has good intentions. The sender sees something wrong and wishes to fix it, yes. However, the manner in which the sender is trying to correct this wrong is incorrect in that specific time and space. That is what I mean by ineffective communication.
We live in a world where all of us crave to be validated and accepted. We would do anything to get the approval of the one above us in status. We forget to acknowledge the receiver’s possible reaction in that current time and space. We would come off as self-righteous and self-absorbed.
These interactions are nothing unique of its sorts, these have repeated multiple times in human history and will continue to do till the end of time. Only significance now is, we have a digital platform to amplify the noise.
When people embark on the journey to self-development, there’s a chance they overindulge in its fruits. They often desire to change everyone around them first, and themselves last. They wish to change the imperfections of the world quickly, while they themselves are still very flawed and imperfect.
This is farther from the truth. In fact, this is a major self-deception.
While some people have the authority to criticize and order people around, the vast majority do not.
Those who are allowed to criticize tend not to criticize out of their wisdom, while those who are not allowed exhibit the opposite. The irony.
Those merited to criticize with their due authority don’t do so, out of their strong root in their wisdom. Opposite of this, are all around us. The irony of the world we live in, huh?
Criticize yourself first before you criticize others. Chances are that people won't listen to what you're saying if you criticize them.
Dale Carnegie presents a different way to confront a wrong. He advices to "affirm what is good". Critique, not criticize. Only encourage improvement, preferably in a positive light.
You've most probably heard of the Golden Rule, a rule attributed to the Islamic Prophet Muhammad Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him. It is 'treat people how you'd like to be treated'. This is essentially what Carnegie is advising.
Affirm the best of qualities of an individual who you see doing a wrong action. For people are innately rooted to good and pass the same around others. Break the cycle of negative criticism. Chances are that you do wrong just as that individua.
Carnegie explains "We are all imperfect beings full of shortcomings, and this affords us perhaps as many opportunities to affirm others after disagreement or disappointment as in the midst of affability. The key is to allow yourself no claim on circumstantial exemptions-use a spirit of affirmation to convey your thoughts about others whenever you can."
Do not criticize others on things they do today that you may do tomorrow.
Sure, today you may have committed more acts of good than the individual who is in the wrong, but you are just as flawed as the human next to you. The desire of good to the extreme, can result in bad outcomes.
Exhibit proper communication by limiting your criticism of others. Send your message in a manner which makes you treat the receiver the way you'd like to be treated if you were the receiver.
The Islamic Prophet Muhammad, Peace and Blessings be Upon Him, on the authority of Anas Ibn Malik, may God accept him, who was the assistant of the Prophet, narrates that the Prophet, Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him said "None of you will believe till you love for your brother what you love for yourself."
This Hadith is related by Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.