7 Quick Takes on Tacos, “Constructive Criticism,” and Life Alignment

7 Quick Takes, hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum

— 1 —

Mr. Man and I met some friends of his for dinner last week at Migo. It was tasty. I always struggle with eating tacos because the filling falls out so easily. It makes me want more tortilla. But I’m not eating the taco because I wanted a tortilla; I’m eating it for the stuff in the middle. It feels silly to have to eat some of the filling off the shell with a fork, but that feels less silly than just making a huge mess while the good stuff falls onto my plate. Maybe that’s why I enjoy quesadillas, enchiladas, and pico de gallo more than tacos, tostadas, or salsa: my favorites stay put.

And you thought there was nothing to say about tacos besides “yum.”

— 2 —

Against all odds, Mr. Man and I won trivia again last week! Two first place finishes in a row (adding on to the week before) is unreal. The same friends we went to Migo with came to round out our team. It helps a lot that the “name that tune”-style round is one of my specialties, and he fills in a lot of the science things I don’t know. We’re both humanities nerds, but our nerdery appears to be complementary instead of overlapping, so that’s good.

— 3 —

Kyle Benson at the Gottman Institute blog shared a post recently about how to fruitfully respond to criticism in relationships. The institute focuses on married couples, but this advice totally applies to work relationships, too:

Despite what some people say, there is no such thing as constructive criticism. Criticism triggers a person to become defensive and protect themselves from an attack, which blocks the resolution of a conflict.

Yes, yes, yes! Think about it: no one ever asks to receive “constructive criticism.” It is almost always the criticizer who asks-but-isn’t-really-asking to criticize someone. If Mr. Coworker says, “Can I give you some constructive criticism?” and I say “no,” suddenly I’m in the wrong. It shouldn’t be that way.

The Gottmans rightly call criticism one of the “four horsemen” of the relationship apocalypse. It destroys people’s confidence and makes them respond aggressively and negatively. The asker, in turn, was aggressive and negative. Criticism is never constructive; it’s always destructive.

— 4 —

I had the honor of attending a local wedding last weekend as Mr. Man’s guest. He doesn’t dress up as much as I do for church, but he will for weddings. It was among the smaller weddings I have attended, so there wasn’t quite as much dancing as I usually experience. I realized, though, that I have spent so many weddings of friends entirely on the dance floor mainly to assuage my sadness at being so very single for so very long. It’s hard to feel like you’re alone when you’re busting moves surrounded by your friends. It was a very different experience to be there with mostly people I didn’t know but also with a date.

— 5 —

I participated in the Asian Efficiency Focus Challenge this week. I’m not sure I was the ideal audience, but I appreciated the experience all the same. The key exercise was evaluating my life for alignment. The process is simple: Make a list of the five things that are most important to you. Then make a list of the top five things you spend your time on. Are those lists the same? If not, what can you do to make them match?

— 6 —

I happen to have known this bishop when he was Vicar General of Austin, but it’s solid episcopal advice regardless:

— 7 —

The Pentecost novena starts today! I like to pray the version hosted by EWTN. Your mileage may vary.


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7 Comments

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Hi Lindsay! What you said about constructive criticism piqued my interest, as I actually have asked for and really value people constructively sharing what I could work on. Were you particularly talking about mean-spirited, insulting criticism? Or did you mean that you think there is never a place for even well-intentioned constructive conversation? Thanks!

    Huh. So you specifically ask for “criticism,” using that word? Not for suggestions or feedback? Asking for feedback or having something like an annual review is not the same thing as asking for criticism. Criticism, by definition, is negative, and it attacks one’s character or personality rather than one’s actions or the effect of those actions on others. Those would be complaints. A constructive conversation could consist of only compliments. That would be constructive in the sense that you know you’re doing well, and it wouldn’t be criticism. Having a conversation is not the same thing as asking for criticism.

      I don’t think we’d ever grow if our conversations only focused on what we’re good at. We all have flaws, and yes, I do want to hear how I can become a better version of myself. I have specifically asked for that, which it sounds like you’d view more as “feedback “. Personal insults are never called for, and I think that’s not constructive. But whatever you call it – being open to hearing both my strengths and weaknesses allows me to improve and grow. It’s hard to accept hearing about my weaknesses, but I pray that I get better at humility in order to do so.

      Words are very important here. Kyle Benson’s article at the Gottman Institute blog (which I linked in my post) focuses on how to manage conflict in relationships by replacing criticism (negative) with complaints or wishes (positive). It’s all about what you say to others and how it makes them react. It sounds like you’re discussing this from the other direction: asking someone for criticism (negative) with a predisposition towards looking positively at whatever they say. That’s beyond the scope of the article and the comments I initially made. It’s great that you seem to view all criticism as positive! I don’t think that’s a common reaction, though, and the Gottmans’ research also suggests that you’re an outlier here.

“no one ever asks to receive “constructive criticism.””

?? what?? Of course they do. All the time.

I don’t know what you are thinking here – maybe some specific instance – but in general people ask for criticism all the time….the feedback form at the restaurant, the coach an athlete hires, the “is my tie straight’ before Mass starts.

    You ask people to criticize you? I am thinking specifically about having character or personality insulted, not about anything positive or even neutral. A restaurant feedback form is asking for broad comments; you can write all good things if you only have good things to say. Good things aren’t criticism. A coach is supposed to coach you, not criticize you. A coach says, “You need to shoot 10 free throws at the end of practice every day until you can make all 10 in a row.” A coach doesn’t say, “You’re terrible at making free throws because you’re not trying hard enough.” Telling a man his tie is crooked becomes critical when you say it is of course crooked because he’s a slob who can’t dress himself.

[…] caused a bit of a kerfuffle in the comments section after last week’s take on constructive criticism. I’ve been reading advice from Gottman Certified Therapists for several months now (maybe […]

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