How To Take Advice Disguised As Criticism (& v.v.)

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-09-04 00:00:00 No comments

One of the best conversations I've had in recent months came by way of my friend Kyle. I think we touched on everything in that one short of quantum mechanics and why the two things in the world that are most inexhaustible in supply are belly-button lint and stupidity.

Actually, we did touch on the last one (in re stupidity, not belly-button lint). That happened by way of him talking about how he deals with criticism or disagreements of opinion in bad faith. His point of reference was the movie Patton, where there's a line that goes like this (I looked it up!): "Fixed fortifications are monuments to the stupidity of man. If mountain ranges and oceans can be overcome, then anything built by man can be overcome."

The point Kyle took from this was: If you have a point of view, don't defend it. Go on the attack, always on the attack. Put your point of view out there, support it the best you can in the argument, and then move on to the next attack. Don't bother trying to explain or justify or defend the argument to humorless pedantic nitpicking douchweenies whose only joy in life is making better people than them look uninformed.

Gears turned. I took notes. And out of that I came up with a few basic precepts, I guess you could call them, for how to take advice disguised and criticism and vice-versa:

1. The number of people who have something to teach you in this world is not very large, but they are worth noting.

Many people out there don't have something useful to say to you. Many people are simply going to say something approving or derogatory. Both of those points of view spring mainly from their prejudices and tastes, not from their reason or insight. Keep that in mind whenever someone has something either good or bad to say about your work.

2. If someone has a useful lesson for you, and provides it to you in good faith and with good manners, they deserve all the engagement you can muster.

The combination of all three of those things is crucial. First, they need to have a good point to make. Second, they need to make it in a way that shows they care about the discussion, and not just because they want to "win". Third, it helps if they do it in a way that shows they're willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to a stranger as much as a friend.

3. If they have a lesson, but don't provide it in good faith or with good manners, take the lesson and move on.

Dean Sluyter once offered two words that I consider hefty advice: "Recognize teachers." If you hate the teacher but know on some level the lesson is a good one, take the lesson. A total dillweed can still make a valuable point, but your time is best spent engaging with the point made, not the dillweed himself. You're not obliged to tell them they made a decent point, because many of them will not use such a response for anything other than cheap one-upsmanship.

4. If they have neither good faith, nor good manners, nor a useful lesson, ignore them.

Because life's too short for that crap.

Tags: advice criticism