Wisdom//

Looking for Inspiration? Pay Attention to Your Critics

According to an expert, feedback can make you more creative. Here’s why.

Courtesy of Pavlo S / Shutterstock
Courtesy of Pavlo S / Shutterstock

Think about the last time you received feedback on an idea at work. Were you defensive? Were you nervous? Were you preparing for the worst but hoping for the best?

Despite those all-too-common impulses, you shouldn’t dread criticism. At Thrive, we often say that feedback is simply information, and in a positive office culture, critical feedback is delivered compassionately, and with the goal of helping people perform better at their jobs. In fact, research has shown that criticism can actually boost creativity, leading to stronger ideas and better outcomes.

Here are three ways constructive criticism can enhance your ideas and boost creativity. Use these to help you reframe the way you view feedback — and make it work for you, instead of against you:

You gain a learning opportunity

Dissent provides you with more information, and more information leads to growth. This is the concept behind the work of Charlan Nemeth, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and author of In Defense of Troublemakers: The Power of Dissent in Life and Business. If we avoid criticism, then we avoid critical thinking, Nemeth tells Thrive.

Criticism can challenge you, in a good way. “Our minds need to be stimulated; we need to be challenged; we need to have a sense of engagement with ideas and with others,” Nemeth explains.

Criticism can help battle biases

In a world of only positive feedback, conversation can grow unproductive. “We search for information that corroborates the majority position, and we do not consider alternatives. In other words, when that happens, we think in narrow, biased ways,” Nemeth says.

This is a phenomenon that psychologists call “shared information bias” — if everybody is exposed to the same one-sided idea or methodology, then everyone will gather information that only supports that one idea. For example, if you work to create a product with your team, someone makes an unwise decision about the materials, but no one speaks up with their criticism, you can wind up with a bad end result. With nobody willing to speak up or offer differing opinions, you’ll never be able to course-correct or grow as a team. Criticism is integral to success.

It adds value

What if you receive negative feedback that is blatantly inaccurate? It’s actually still helpful, Nemeth says. “There is considerable evidence that dissent stimulates better decision-making and more creative problem-solving — even when it’s wrong,” she tells Thrive. “We should fear consensus because it constrains the way we think about an issue.” Think about it: Even if the feedback is wrong, you’re forced to defend your stance, further boosting the solidity of the original idea.

How to give effective critical feedback

In order to give feedback that creates the right amount of stimulation (without causing unnecessary stress), try compassionate directness. It empowers everyone to speak up — whether it’s to agree, disagree, surface problems, or give criticism — in an immediate, continuous, and clear way. The important thing to remember is to infuse criticism with empathy — with the understanding that criticism, when done correctly, can be a superpower.

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