I want you to give me a hard time. No really. Go for it. Read some of my blog posts and then give it to me straight. Tell me what you really think. I am giving you full permission to be honest with me. Be critical. Please.
Being critical is too often seen as a negative. Harsh. Uncalled for. Blunt. Hashtag Ouch.
But, you know what, I’d take it any day over the alternative.
Because nothing amazing ever happens when you are nice.
Our indoctrination towards nice begins in childhood; ‘be nice to your sister’ ‘play nicely with the Lego.’ In Britain, we prize being nice over being honest. We let people push in front of us in queues and we accept bad haircuts and we don’t make a fuss when our cheese toasties arrive on white bread instead of brown.
Being nice is not the same as being kind. Kindness is pure, undistilled magic and a tiny drop of it can spark whole miracles. Niceness is just cheap window dressing. It’s what I punt out front so you don’t see what’s really going on inside. It is saccharine- sweet empty space. It means nothing.
Niceness has long since seeped into our online communication too. Take the humble text message as an example- what a great invention. The point of a text message is to ask something or tell something. Quick, easy, straight to the point. Usually routine communication with people you already know. ‘Can you get milk on the way home?’ ‘Be there in 10 minutes.’ But that is not enough. I have to also be nice. I have to add a kiss or a smiley face to my text message. So that you know I am nice. A world of pain and paranoia can open up for the text receiver if the previously established kiss or smiley face is inexplicably missing; what does it mean? Have I done something wrong? Why is she not being nice to me? Otherwise rational adults go into mini meltdown mode because of a missing emoji. I know this because it has happened to me. I have been that paranoid, panicky text receiver.
And do not even get me started on LOL.
Professional niceness is even worse. I watched your lesson today and I really didn’t think it was very good. But I won’t tell you that. Because that wouldn’t be nice. Instead, I’ll mutter something about the children being very polite and then I’ll hightail it out of there before I have to get honest with you. I will tell you that your lesson plan sounds great even if I think it doesn’t. Even if I think I could suggest ways to improve it. Because being nice matters more than being honest.
But there is another way.
Accept that criticality is what makes change happen. You telling me what you really think is what will make me think. I might not like what you tell me, I might choose to disagree or discard your feedback, but it is 100% guaranteed to make me think. And that is the bit that matters. Because when you look at what I do with a critical eye, it makes me do the same. And that will lead to change.
Being critical does not mean being a jerk. You don’t need to be rude or aggressive or judgemental. You don’t have to try to make me do it your way. Shaming people achieves nothing but shame. But if you are honest and you are respectful and you say to me ‘Look, here’s my opinion on what you did…’ Well, I need to be big enough to take it. I need to swallow that lump in my throat and curb my initial response to cry and/or punch you in the head for not instantly telling me how amazing I am. And that can be hard. But I will manage it because I will understand you are talking to me in the spirit of helping me get better at what I do. I will understand that being critical is way harder than being nice and that you probably have a lump in your throat too. I will take a deep breath and I will listen to you and say thank you and then I’ll step through whatever door your honest criticism has opened for me.
So here’s my idea- let’s sack off all the nice and get real. I’ll be straight with you and you be straight with me, ok? If I watch you teach or you read my writing or we disagree about something, let’s assume we are both big enough to handle the subsequent critical feedback. We won’t be jerks about it, but we won’t be nice about it either.
And we won’t feel the need to smother every communication in a thick layer of nice. We’ll just say what we need to say, safe in the knowledge that you are no less my pal because I forgot to LOL at your last message. And I promise you won’t ever need a text kiss to know that I love you.
You and I will know that being critical is actually being kind. We will not be nice, because nice means nothing, but instead we will be critical and we will be kind. Telling me what you really think is a tremendous act of kindness. It is a leap of faith. Honest, critical feedback is a gift, the most precious gift you can give. And I will thank you for it.
Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Louise Kinsella on Unsplash