Intelligent people are not averse to receiving criticism. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.” But some people do, and they take contradiction negatively.

Have you also come across people who cannot take disapproval and disagreement? Such people often first form their opinion and then discuss it with others, seeking comments from friends and the opinions of experts on that subject. But in this process, if someone contradicts what they have already decided, they feel offended. They go to another lot of people asking for their views. This exercise continues, till someone agrees and corroborates their own pre-formed opinion. In such cases, what the person is actually seeking is not truth but corroboration, an agreement to his/her own judgement. This is because not everyone dares to accept real suggestions or criticism. Most of the people are searching for support. W Somerset Maugham rightly said, “People ask for criticism, but they only want praise.”

This happens many times in professional life and family setup. Remember a boss first deciding on a plan and then placing it on an agenda item for discussion in a meeting? Not admitting any counter recommendation to the plan and then announcing that the plan was agreed upon after an open discussion and deliberation! An elder member of a family imposing own thoughts on the younger generation, not willing to listen to their counterpoints, demanding respect on the grounds of his/her age and seniority, is a very common scenario. This kind of situation becomes unproductive especially when the person is not willing to take any counsel, even the constructive ones. Sticking to your own evaluation and ideas even when they are defective is dangerous. They are detrimental to the growth and progress of individuals, families and organisations.

How constructive criticism can be was wisely described by Winston Churchill in an interview, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop.” Let’s be clear, criticism does not always mean an argument, it might be a simple corrective suggestion, a constructive comment or a mild nudge. No harm in listening to someone’s assessment and then thinking about it with a cool mind. It doesn’t compel us to necessarily agree with anyone in its entirety but at least being open to ideas is useful.

So, next time when you ask someone’s suggestion, be clear if you really want their opinion or only seek an agreement to what you have in your mind.

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