No knowledge, no criticisms

In the social media, people often complain about unjustified criticism or condescending remarks based on gender, origin, clothing, etc. Such complaints are then often garnished with the statement that other social groups do not have to suffer from wrongful comments. In my experience, marginalising criticism is very common and likes to abuse external things like irrelevant characteristics or hobbies. The main thing is that it is a low-cost vehicle to discredit the person being attacked.

I am and have been involved in many change processes, and you hear these sayings very often in the tea room. Some leaders who drive change really get tons of blame. These insults are often driven by the Laggards, the people who are the very last to take over the changes. As an external consultant, I am seldom affected.

But it did happen to me once: A company badly needed to make its decentralised, inhomogeneous IT more efficient because it was writing red figures. After a few months of initial progress, there was a big project meeting to discuss alternatives. A business unit had joined at short notice and sent a representative. I was only a guest and seated at the very back of the room.

This representative took the opportunity of a small break in the programme, went to the front, grabbed the microphone and insulted me as a person. ” Do you want to be told what to do by that jerk German” was the more harmless version. I was very caught off guard, adrinaline shot through my bloodstream, yet I was able to use the period of name-calling to collect myself.

Slowly I went forward, placed myself next to him, looked at him and indicated with my hand that I wanted the microphone. He was very puzzled, kept talking, but I gestured with my hand without saying anything. He gave me the microphone and went back to his seat. I resumed quickly that we were all here to discuss alternatives, asked him to be constructive and forbade him to attack me personally. However, constructive criticism of my work was always welcome. He shouted something incomprehensible from his seat, then there was peace.

For me, it is important to briefly counter the attack. Not to the content, because such an attack has no content. It can be as low-level as a slow blink I threw at two ladies I didn’t let cut in front of me at a concert, who then had to settle for two rows behind me and then condescendingly insulted me with externalities and alleged qualities.

Often you only discover something like that through a second person, and I always bring it up there, too. I never raise suspicions, but rather talk about the content. “I heard you don’t like the upcoming changes”, the reactions are manifold, from “Yes, yes, it’s all good” to constructive criticism to “Yes, Miller is an blockhead, look at what a pimps car he rides”.

Such condescending criticism can really strike you. Maybe because you’re having a weak moment, because you’re struggling with other things in the project, because the criticism has subtly hit a sore spot.

When something like that has happened to me, I process it. I look for reasons why it has affected me and try to conclude it for myself. An important checkpoint is: Would I ask that particular person for criticism? If not, the criticism is not for me, but instead says quite a lot more about the other person.

Critics of nose lengths are annoying and don’t deserve any attention. You don’t know me or the content, then you have no right to criticise.

Finally, a quick thought on good criticism. If it is a mentor-mentee relationship or a supervisor-employee relationship and you are asked for criticism for improvement. From an observer’s perspective, you can highlight strengths and offer weaknesses as alternatives. Instead of saying, “You still have to learn how to talk to customers, but you are already very proficient in accounting and technology,” you can say what you appreciate: “When we are both at the customer’s, I love that you take the technology and the numbers off my hands. That way I can concentrate fully on the customer. This way, as an start to a meaningful conversation, a lot of ideas for improvement can be discussed, the mentee has maximum freedom to take alternatives and talk about the future.

Slow Blink
Slow Blink

One thought on “No knowledge, no criticisms”

  1. Excellent. I’m so pleased you have written about practical examples of narcissism and gaslighting. You describe cognitive dissonance, naive realism and fundamental attribution to a tee. I love Amy Edmondson, Tasha Eurich and Jennifer Fraser, who build a great picture of psychological unsafety in the trenches and explain why people remain in the apathy and anxiety zones instead o reaching the heights of motivating, learning and high-performing zones. Thank you so much, Werner; great article

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