How to Maintain Positive Thinking Even When Being Criticized

May 10, 2014

How to Maintain Positive Thinking Even When Being Criticized


Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen have written a book that offers a sensible approach to anyone who wants to enjoy a more meaningful life. Their book examines the ideal response to give to any type of constructive criticism.  The book’s primary message concerns the recommended thinking for the recipient of such criticism. According to Stone and Heen, that recipient ought to focus on thinking positively.

The opening phrase in that book’s two-part title highlights the nature of the recommended response. Here is that phrase: Thanks for the Feedback. In other words, the two authors have put-forward a most unusual suggestion. The two of them have suggested that the target of any constructive criticism ought to be thankful for those decidedly pointed remarks.

To the average person, that simple suggestion can seem like a huge challenge, especially if the received feedback has been given following performance of an action that was meant to be helpful.  Typically, the act of helping others is viewed as one that can inject more meaning into the life of the person who has chosen to be helpful. Yet, if that offered action has not been appreciated, then it fails to accomplish that goal. It is for that reason, that it becomes difficult to say these two words to the giver of constructive criticism: Thank you.

The readers of the text by Stone and Heen should learn that remarks that relate to performance of an act do not have to be viewed as demeaning. In fact, such comments ought to be seen as a statement that serves to underline the value of the person who was the target of the constructive criticism. Development of the skill that is known as positive thinking stands as a meaningful accomplishment, one that allows a person to ascertain the sometimes hidden value in clearly-stated criticism.

The person who has learned how to think positively does not take-on blame for the mistakes made by an entire team. By the same token, the person who has become skilled at thinking positively does not refuse to acknowledge a mistake, choosing instead to shift the blame to others. In both instances, the target of the constructive criticism has failed to examine each aspect of the offered feedback. Usually, the failure to take that approach invites the type of thinking that allows the offered remarks to accumulate unwanted nuances and interpretations, the way a snowball gathers snow, as it travels down a slope.

That is not a healthy situation, and is one that ought to be avoided. It encourages the belief that a given mistake has managed to bring-on a catastrophe. The person who has formed such a belief has been turned-away from the path that leads to discovery of a more meaningful life.

Now, while the second half of this text (The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well) does not make mention of advice for the critique-maker, such advice can be found between the books’ two covers. In fact, one piece of advice really resonated with this writer, a grandmother who was once a parent. That one piece of information concerned the ideal means for linking praise and criticism.

Such a linkage can prove quite useful, when a parent wants a son or daughter to work-on developing certain virtues. Literature that is meant to guide such a parent recommends the praising of a virtuous act, followed by the word “but,” and then a reference to a virtue that must be developed further. According to Stone and Heen, that suggestion was insightful, and it also needs to be altered a bit, in order to get the targeted child thinking in a more positive fashion.

Notice that in the above statement the praise was followed by the word “and,” rather than the word “but.” The use of “and” aids the formation of a more positive-sounding comment. It helps to open the door to realization of the fact that the person targeted by that particular comment remains valued. Such a realization then aids formation of the type of thinking that allows a person to continue to make progress on the road that leads to enjoyment of a more meaningful life.


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