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MBA Essentials
AUG 10, 2017

Criticism Is a Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

By Gil Chavez
iStock photo/juliawhite

A student once told me that she hesitated to take the GLOBIS Critical Thinking course because she didn’t like to argue. To her, arguing really meant fighting, and critical thinking seemed filled with just that.

There’s a difference between making an argument and having an argument, I told her. When you make an argument, you engage in a considered discussion, searching for a better answer. Having an argument is just aiming to win a fight.

Unfortunately, my argument wasn’t strong enough. She still shied away from the course.

Recently, a friend shared the following Twitter comment from Eriko Imai, the current politician and former singer from Speed (translated from Japanese):

“Let’s have an election without any criticism.”

As you might guess, in an age where even the U.S. president attacks others via Twitter, the response to her tweet was withering. It may be hard for Ms. Imai to imagine, but many of those attacking her may have legitimate concerns and reasonable positions.

In politics and business, truly difficult problems cannot be solved without constructive criticism. Without arguments, deeper truths cannot be uncovered, and lasting, meaningful solutions cannot be created.

When people disagree with you, critiquing your argument, they are actually doing you a favor. It may not be a welcome favor. It may not appear at all kind, but it is a way to a better result.

If a reasonable, well-informed person disagrees with you, they are making an effort to change your perception of the world. They may not successfully change your mind (people tend to become entrenched when their opinion is challenged too strongly). However, disagreement should give you the opportunity to stop and ask: “Why does this person disagree? Is it because they are inherently evil?” (Unlikely.) “Do they dislike me personally and disagree with me because of that?” (Maybe.)

More likely, the criticism comes from two key sources:

1) They have a contrary interpretation of the evidence, inferring the causes and the meaning of the situation differently.

2) They have other priorities and weigh the evidence and probable outcomes of specific solutions differently than you.

People who disagree with you are valuable to you. They can show you a world that you don’t inhabit, or may not even know existed. They may even prove the validity of a world you considered not worth knowing about.

So let them speak; let them explain. They will give you a better understanding of the problem and how others view the world.

Listening to a reasonable person disagree will help you reevaluate your position, finding its weaknesses and inconsistencies. It will also help you understand others and how you might persuade them. The person may even persuade you that their idea is better, or at least that you should modify your position. All of these are positives.

There is no loss in rethinking, modifying, or even changing your position. There is, however, great loss in ignoring more thoughtful arguments and better ideas.

In spite of the packaging, try to assume that the person who is disagreeing and critiquing your argument is doing so with good intent. Having your argument critiqued clarifies and improves it.

A disagreement is an opportunity to learn.