How are things made better? What are the forces that can improve products, services, systems, and ideas? Critique and argument are indispensable.
Most of us are uncomfortable offering critique and/or arguing. It’s easy and pleasant to praise, encourage, and agree with others, but it’s difficult to critique and challenge. Similarly, we enjoy hearing words of commendation but we bristle at phrases that suggest we should do things differently. We like it when people agree with us and affirm our thoughts, but when they push back and disagree we are put-off.
But critique and argument are indispensable for progress. The key thing to remember is that feedback is a gift so critique and argument should be received (even solicited) and considered positive.
Verb—to evaluate (a theory or practice) in a detailed and analytical way
Noun—a detailed analysis and assessment of something
I avoid using the words criticize and criticism because they sound harsh and oppositional, whereas critique is a softer, more helpful approach.
Everything—a Broadway show, a new model of car, software, a new hire, work done, performance—is improved by intentional and systematic critique from multiple sources. Feedback is a gift, and critical feedback is especially useful.
My friend Allen is professor of choral studies at a major university. When coaching his conducting students, in addition to praising them for what they are doing well, he must tell them what they are doing wrong. If he doesn’t, they will think all they are doing is satisfactory. It would be counterproductive for him to praise something that needs to change.
Noun: a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong
Verb (argue): to exchange or express diverging or opposing views
Argument helps us clarify our thoughts and articulate them accurately, and we consider the ideas of others in a respectful and critical manner.
(By the way, political debates are not good examples of the benefits of argument. When politicians “debate” all they’re basically saying is, “You’re wrong and I’m not.” There’s seldom any thoughtful discourse about real issues.)
Here’s a good article on the benefits of arguing.
In your family, at work, among friends…is it acceptable to critique one another? Is arguing allowed, even valued? The answer to both questions should be yes.
What do you think?