Who’s Your Naysayer?

 

who's your naysayer My husband walks in from the gym, and as usual, I ask, “How’d it go?”

His answer: “No one ever tells me I’m doing anything wrong. All I ever hear is that I’m doing great.”

I know what he means. He’s paying for coaching because he wants to improve. If the coach could show him how he was screwing up–because he knows he’s far from perfect–he could fix it. He could get better.

But to get better, first he has to know what he’s doing wrong. Progress emerges from criticism. Good ideas emerge from struggle.

I was surprised to read earlier this year that brainstorming–that beloved and widely-used creativity technique–doesn’t actually work. The cardinal rule of brainstorming is: no criticism. Suspend judgment. No negative feedback.

But it turns out that negative feedback is valuable. It makes us think harder. It makes us better. And that’s as true in the rest of life as it is in the gym.

When we’re not criticized, we don’t get better.

The researchers said, “There’s this Pollyannaish notion that the most important thing to do when working together is stay positive and get along, to not hurt anyone’s feelings,” she says. “Well, that’s just wrong. Maybe debate is going to be less pleasant, but it will always be more productive.”

So you’ll understand why when my husband walked in from the gym a week later, and I asked how it went, he said, “Lauren told me to point my knees in and keep my elbows out. It was awesome.”

So my question to you is:

Who’s your naysayer? Who shows you what you’re doing wrong so you can get better?

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Comments

  1. Suzette says

    What a neat article! My husband is my naysayer for certain. He does so in such a gentle and loving way, but doesn’t let me “crawfish” ( meaning back into a corner with my defenses up). Marriage has been really good for my character growth.

  2. says

    My son is my naysayer, though he doesn’t actually SAY when I’m doing something wrong – rather my “oops!” are reflected in his attitude and actions.

    One of those things about being a mom no one ever told me…

  3. says

    It is not easy. And it is not fun. But you have to learn to take criticism. It is crucial. Not all criticism is equal, but from people you know and trust (or are paying to help you) you have to go with it and learn from it.

    • Anne says

      “Not all criticism is equal.”

      YES. So very true, and important to keep in mind when we’re hearing critical words.

  4. says

    My sisters. They are merciless, but because they love me. And vice versa. :)
    Actually, this weekend my husband was brainstorming a new business idea that he has been mulling around for like 6 years (he is an accountant after all…and a very loooong thinker before he moves. Saints preserve me!!) Anyway, this weekend, he asked me to think about everything that could possible go wrong with the plan, and to ask the “what if” questions. I thought it was a very wise way to go about planning. We did come up with some potential pitfalls, and also found ways to address them!! :)

    • Anne says

      LOVE the example of your brainstorming session, Sarah! This is a great example of how the criticism helped strengthen the business plan.

  5. says

    I think the researcher has a different definition of brainstorming than I do. Back when I was in those group-work type settings we used it to get ideas out of our heads and onto paper. There was none of “this Pollyannaish notion that the most important thing to do when working together is stay positive and get along”, as the researcher put it. Who taught her how to brainstorm? The Care Bears? In all the organizations I’ve done it in, the initial brainstorming session was just that, an initial session to get everyone who had an idea to get it out without being told to shut up (figuratively or literally). After that, then the group critically viewed the various ideas.

    As for naysayers, it’s tough to find one in my job now. The only time I get told I got it wrong is the rare occasion when I get reversed by the Court of Appeal. Other than that, I’m in a workplace where everyone has to do what I say, no one can tell me what to do, and everybody laughs at my jokes. It’s not always as much fun as it sounds. (I should write about this on my blog some time.) Then again, when I do get to work with other judges on administrative things like committees and task forces, then we can be the iron sharpening iron thing that I miss out on otherwise in my job.

    At home, I’d say my whole family is my naysayer, but all of them are so wonderful that it is welcome. Well, sometimes I think I have a hard time receiving it, but that’s more a function of my attitude than their delivery.

    Cheers,
    Tim

    • Anne says

      “I’m in a workplace where everyone has to do what I say, no one can tell me what to do, and everybody laughs at my jokes. It’s not always as much fun as it sounds. (I should write about this on my blog some time.)”

      YES. You should!

      • says

        I’m giving it some thought, Anne, but it’s not shaping up. If you have some idea of what might interest readers, can you drop me an email?

        Thanks,
        Tim

        P.S. Thanks too for stopping by the blog today, especially since you got the ball rolling on that post in the first place!

  6. says

    I find that I appreciate these “naysayers” so much in my writing. So often, friends will say “It’s great!” with the best of intentions. While sometimes I need a dose of “It’s great!”, this doesn’t lead to growth. Love these thoughts.

    • Anne says

      CJ, love these thoughts. I’ve wondered if women are more likely to say “it’s great” when an honest opinion would be much more helpful.

    • Anne says

      Maybe, but I’m glad you said it. There is definitely a time and a place for criticism, if we’re going to be able to channel it towards getting better.

  7. says

    So strange, I wrote a post today called “To My Naysayers…”

    It must be a theme people are thinking on.

    You wrote: “But it turns out that negative feedback is valuable. It makes us think harder. It makes us better.”

    I agree and appreciate your voice on this subject.

    • Anne says

      Nicole, I loved your post on this topic. Although I would like to say constructive criticism is valuable….but I don’t know if the opinion of haters ever is. It sounds like that’s what you’re dealing with, and I’m so sorry for that.

      Negative feedback is valuable, but jerks aren’t helpful.

  8. says

    I agree that it is so important to have people who push us. I’m a musician, and by far the teachers I progressed most with were naysayers…not always pleasant in the moment, but looking back they ended up being my favorite teachers. What’s the point of being told, “great job!” over and over again!

  9. says

    One of the great things of gaining experience in a field is that you can start to serve this naysaying function for yourself. You know what’s your best work…and you know what isn’t. And sometimes you even start to see how you can make what isn’t your best work better.

  10. says

    Anne, I agree that having someone give you feedback – even when you really don’t want to hear it! – is very useful. I think a lot of young professionals are struggling today because they are told they are doing great in school, so when they are in the real world criticism hits them hard. Your post made me want to seek out this feedback, so thank you for the reminder!

  11. Anne says

    “I think a lot of young professionals are struggling today because they are told they are doing great in school, so when they are in the real world criticism hits them hard.”

    Interesting, Steph. I think you might be on to something :)

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