How do you respond when someone around you messes up? Is it with grace and compassion, or frustration and condemnation? In his world-renowned book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie lays out fundamental techniques for “handling” people. In it, he helps readers learn how to communicate in a way that will cultivate influence in whatever they do. First released over 80 years ago, leaders since the 1980s have used this book to transform the way they lead and interact with people. In the first chapter, Carnegie makes his case for criticism — and why it just doesn’t work. In it he says, “Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.” (pg. 5) Harsh criticism will cripple your influence, and the people you’re trying to influence. But that doesn’t mean you have to be afraid of providing feedback or correction when it’s necessary.
Harsh criticism will cripple your influence, and the people you’re trying to influence. Click To Tweet
Criticism vs. Constructive Feedback
According to Psychology Today, criticism is destructive when it is:
- About personality or character, rather than behavior
- Filled with blame
- Not focused on improvement
- Based on only one “right way” to do things
While constructive feedback seeks to correct and redirect, criticism creates a sense of insecurity and defensiveness that will never lead to growth. Criticism points the finger while constructive feedback extends a hand to brush people off and help them do better next time.
Criticism points the finger while constructive feedback extends a hand to brush people off and help them do better next time. Click To Tweet
One of the stories in this chapter on criticism that struck me the most was about Bob Hoover, a famous test pilot and flight instructor. At one point in his career, he was flying back to Los Angeles where he lived after being at an air show in San Diego. When he hit three hundred feet, both plane engines stopped suddenly, forcing Hoover to land the plane immediately. While no one was hurt, the expensive plane was totaled and the three men who occupied it could have very well lost their lives. Hoover later identified what the problem was — the propeller plane that could have cost him his life had been fueled with jet fuel instead of gasoline.
When he got to LA, Hoover asked to speak with the mechanic who had serviced his plane. The young mechanic was horrified by his mistake, crying as Hoover approached him. Could you imagine what he could have been thinking as a professional pilot? How unbelievably angry he must have been over the carelessness of the mistake? But instead of ripping the young man apart, Hoover said, “To show you I’m sure that you’ll never do this again, I want you to service my F-51 tomorrow.”
Wow! Could you imagine showing someone that type of grace? Hoover had every right to lose his mind and his patience, but instead he chose to keep his criticism to himself and allow the young mechanic to try again.
I hope you’ll think of that story next time you’re quick to anger and then choose to speak out of that frustration. Instead, let’s be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Let’s leave criticism at the door so we can make room for growth and success.
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