Fundamentals #2: The Destructive Power of “Constructive” Criticism

When we begin a new project or we make an important decision in our culture we tend to ask for feedback from the people we love and respect. Sometimes we even ask for feedback from those we might consider as an adversary and even sometimes those we fear. Yet, we maintain our awareness and defensiveness with them. The most common place where we usually receive the most undermining influences are from those we love and respect because when we relate to them we are more likely to blindly take to heart what they say due to our trust in them. Hence, we are less likely to be diligent in discriminating their feedback as fully as those we might consider to be adversaries. What may be difficult for us to consider is that when even though those we love and respect have “good” intentions, their responses may be more in line with their own agendas relative to their own emotional or social survival which may not necessarily gel with what we’re looking for from their feedback. In that case the feedback may do more harm than good by discouraging what we intend rather than offering the support we might desire or even expect from them.

In assessing our feedback we have two factors to consider: first, how strong is the self-trust and confidence we feel in what we’re asking about and its effect on our propensity to ask for feedback and, second, what in their agendas might interfere with our motivations? Let’s first look at our self-trust and confidence.

As a general rule, most people ask for feedback regardless of their degree of self-trust or confidence. However, the lower the degree possessed the more likely we will be to ask for feedback and follow the suggestions with little or no personal discrimination. If we align with an external locus of control (L.O.C.), that is, have learned to more follow what occurs outside of ourselves as we were trained to do in childhood, we will, additionally, tend to take to heart and follow blindly any external feedback we receive. If we have aligned with an internal locus of control (L.O.C.), that is, we were trained in childhood to trust our own judgment, we will examine the feedback more closely and be less likely to blindly do or follow whatever we’ve been told. To better understand locus of control (L.O.C.) and its relevancy to motivation, please read the following article “The Importance of Internal & External Attention?”

There are, obviously, many points of balance between the extremes of our internal and external attentiveness with many mixtures of varying proportion. That balance, or imbalance, can also shift when different issues are dealt with or when a different person is consulted. So as our self-trust and confidence level varies between people and issues, our choice to act or not will also vary. We may act in some situations and not in others. However, the lower the degree of self-trust and confidence we have, which is when we listen more to what we’re told than what we feel, the less likely we will be to act on our motivations. This brings us to the agendas of the people we are asking for that feedback.

It is my chosen, and experienced, belief that no one does anything for purely one reason. We have to admit that when we decide to do something it is always because the potential outcome of the plan chosen offers more options for success than the other choices available. That is, it satisfies more than one wish, need or requirement. So it is with everyone. Most everyone chooses their actions based on the best all around potential. If the choice includes helping another or ending up in a “good light” as one of the potential outcomes we are more than likely going to choose that option(s). We must recognize and remember that we are all still half animal and that half has an inborn selfish perspective geared toward survival if not dominance...physically and emotionally. The fact that many of us attempt to deny that fact or are simply unconscious of it is only testimony to the fact that our survival options almost always remain unconsciously cloaked by more altruistic ones. For example, we may assist a family member with some task in their home because it allows us access to the good looking neighbor that just moved in next to them. We can choose to be altruistic in our explanations but still harbor a hidden agenda relative to our animal side. It’s those cloaked agendas that I want to draw your attention to.

The first is self-doubt. If the person we ask for feedback is too afraid to do something, they may emphatically recommend that we take that action to see if there is the potential for a successful outcome. Hence, we take the risk. For example, if we are at work in an office and we ask another for advice about asking for a raise, they may be more inclined to encourage us to do so in order to see if the field is clear for them to ask also. If we get shot down, they’ve avoided the risk and remain in a positive light with the boss. Not so for us.

The second agenda is the power of feeling in control. If the person we ask for advice feels insignificant or feels out of control in their lives, they may simply tell us to act in a way that we ordinarily wouldn’t just to feel their own power, even if the recommended action sabotages our advantage in doing what we’re asking about. This may also make them feel like we were asking for their permission to act. This agenda is also getting us to give them our power. For example, if we were to ask someone about going back to school in order to get qualified to acquire and do a specific job, they may tell us all the bad things about going back to school like paying for it, having to use our leisure time to study, the commuting we’d have to do and a whole host of other reasons all the while believing that an education may be the best thing for us. The added bonus for them is being able to rationalize not feeling self conscious about not making the effort themselves.

The third agenda is jealousy. If the person we ask for advice feels that we have an innate skill that they don’t and wish they had it themselves, they may advise us to act in a way that would lead us toward losing or ignoring that skill by squandering it. For example, if are good at sports and the person we asked is not, would like to be and is jealous of our ability, they might advise us to turn down a scholarship or redirect us into a field which doesn’t utilize our skills. They may then console their guilt by telling themselves that their advice was more practical and less of a gamble than our risk of “not making the team.”

The last agenda I want to speak about is the transfer of limitations. This will probably be one of the more common methods of thwarting our motivation and will most likely be an unconscious sabotage by the person we ask. The person may support the action we’re asking advice on but may offer methods that may inhibit or interfere with what our intentions are. For example, if we are asking for directions on how to get somewhere, someone may tell us the usual way that they get there. In using their way we may find much more traffic than we would have encountered had we taken a path provided by our own intuition. In other words, other people’s ways and paths for doing things may not gel with the ways that would be easiest for us. In the long run they may slow us down or altogether halt our progress.

These are just a few examples of others’ agendas that may interfere with our acting on activities that we’ve been garnering momentum to partake in. Some agendas are rational and some may be irrational but the effect on our choice to act will be the same. The truth about most of these agendas that act like saboteurs is that they are most often done by people unconsciously. That is, they consciously don’t realize that what they are telling us to do is more advantageous to them and in line with what they want than us. This means that any accusations made on our part could really end us up in hot water with the people we ask since they are not aware of their unconscious agendas themselves.

So what is the best path? If we have to ask for advice, we must do our due diligence in personally discriminating the advice we receive from others. Their intentions may consciously be in a “good” place but their unconscious needs and wants may get the better of them and in our way. Remember, the stronger our self-trust and confidence are, the less need we will have to ask for advice or feedback and the less likely we will be to follow it without due diligence. We must work on our own self-trust and confidence first. Then our choices will reflect more clearly what our spirit “intends.”

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