Before you criticise, find out why you’re frustrated

When we’re frustrated we tend to criticise other people (or their work.) That blocks us from finding out why our needs aren’t being met.

I once asked a diving instructor what was involved in learning how to save people’s lives. He told me that it’s not just about life saving, but also self-defence. Apparently when people get into distress underwater, they attempt to pull out their instructor’s air supply—effectively trying to kill the person who could help them. Instructors are trained to both restrain the victim and rescue them from danger.

What’s going on here? The victim attacks the instructor because they think that the instructor is the cause of their problems. That seems absurd, right? And yet I can imagine, in that moment of panic, lashing out at anything and everything. Or as nonviolent communication puts it:

“Violence comes from the belief that other people cause our pain and therefore deserve punishment.”—Marshall Rosenberg

Consider the criticisms we might make (or hear) about digital projects:

  • “this website has a terrible user experience”
  • “this is the wrong way to run a design project”
  • “I can’t work with these bad writers”

These criticisms are small acts of violence. We feel frustrated and we think that other people are the cause. So we judge, blame, or criticise, as if we could force them to “repent”. Like the diver in distress, we’re lashing out at the only people who can help us.

In reality we’re frustrated because we have an unmet need. There’s something that we’re not getting which is causing us pain.

Next time you’re tempted to criticise, pause and try to find out why you’re frustrated. Are you wanting more respect? Are you resentful because you need autonomy? Are you tired because you want to be accepted rather than trying to prove your worth? Once you find the need you can figure out how to meet it.

(Want help figuring out what those needs might be? Consider my peer coaching course in Jan/Feb.)

Photo by Derek Keats (Creative Commons licensed).