So, the year was 2011. I had just given a speech at Marie Forleo‘s live event. And everyone seemingly loved it.
(She even got me to moonwalk on stage…)
This was one of my first speaking engagements about business and entrepreneurship. And I was a little stressed out about it.
Social Triggers was new. I had just began making a name for myself, and I was sharing the stage with people who were remarkable – like Ramit Sethi.
And there I was. The new kid. I gave my speech, and, as I walked off stage, a friend said, “MAN! You killed it!”
I thought about it for a second.
“I did okay, but there’s a lot I could have done better.”
And I fired off some of the things I thought I could have done better.
He fired back, “Why are you so hard on yourself? Everyone loved it! Just enjoy the moment!”
But here’s the deal…
When you start doing something new, everyone around you will give you the positive support they think you need…
To feel good about yourself.
But what if you take it to heart? What if you take the compliments and decided “I’m already good enough” and stop working towards getting better?
I know it sounds crazy, but this happens. A lot. People acquire SOME skill, get SOME praise, and all of a sudden… they think they know what the heck they are doing.
And this is why I believe compliments ruin people.
Compliments make people believe they are “good enough,” and people may lose the desire to get better.
The worst part?
As my friend Ryan Holiday wrote in Ego Is The Enemy, “We tend to be on guard against negativity, against the people who are discouraging us from pursuing our callings or doubting the visions we have for ourselves. This is certainly an obstacle to beware of, though dealing with it is rather simple. What we cultivate less is how to protect ourselves against the validation and gratification that will quickly come our way if we show promise. What we don’t protect ourselves against are people and things that make us feel good – or rather, too good.”
You see, we all know to guard ourselves from real negativity and criticism. But few people know to watch out for positivity and the detrimental effect it can have on our desire to get better.
And that’s why I prefer criticism over compliments.
What are your thoughts?
I believe that in every situation — a friend, colleague, or client — you always want to help them improve. If you have honest, constructive feedback or criticism you should always give it.
The question is, do you pad it with a compliment for fear of coming across too blunt? If you have to ask yourself how the comment will be received, you should make sure you include a positive statement along with your feedback.
PS. Marie Forleo is one of our clients and I’ve worked with her team many times. Isn’t she amazing?!
I don’t care for compliments or criticism as they’re a person’s opinion of you with no or little substance. They often leave me with a strange taste: Oh, yeah, I was so great? What was so great about me? Will I be great next time around?
I much prefer clean feedback. Tell me what I did that worked and what I did that didn’t work without any personal judgement attached. Or, acknowledge something I did that made a difference for you. The more detailed the better, because knowing actual facts will help me improve. Thank you for a thought-provoking post!
For me it depends on the source. I grew up playing sports with my older brothers and there was always a lot of trash talking coming at me during pick up games in the neighborhood, and I gave it right back to them and held my own athletically and throughout life. It gets old, however, when there’s nothing constructive in it and I have learned that most people who are in the arena and doing their own work building something of any value are more helpful than hurtful with their words so those are the people whose feedback I value most. When I see people who just enjoy kicking over other people’s castles, they’re pretty easy to spot, and I limit my association with them.
I think I prefer neither. I don’t prefer empty praise meant simply to encourage, unless it’s about the effort I put in rather than the results.
I also don’t prefer criticism from people unless they’re qualified to give helpful feedback and they’re invested in my life enough to have earned it. A teacher or mentor, it a friend who’s walked with me would he examples of people who’ve earned that right
Hi Derek. I sure hope this post was fishing – I’m taking the bait!
Interesting take. I have not seen, however, where compliments ruin people. In fact, it usually takes an abundance of compliments (real ones) over criticism in order to sink in, unless the person is a narcissist, psychopath, or sociopath, in which case, they think they are god’s gift anyways. Everyone needs feedback to learn. But we need feedback on what we are doing well and what needs improvement (or elimination). Do we need criticism and compliments? Or just feedback. And love.
With your baby girl (I have 3 children and 3 grandchildren myself) – I do NOT suggest she will be ruined by compliments and I definitely think just criticism will destroy her. Trying loving feedback instead.
When you think about it – criticisms and compliments are pretty much the same beasts. Both are forms of feedback, both can be taken too close to heart and both can produce some unintended behavior in their receiver. Obviously, society prefers to receive compliments if anything, but they’re very similar human responses in the end.
So yeah, many people are too afraid of criticism. And if a person is afraid of criticism then I’d say they’re also very likely to treat compliments as a form of mental masturbation and nothing more than that.
It’s all about the individual.
What a deep and powerful message today, my friend. Interesting take. My grandmother, an old-school Italian immigrant, used to say it was bad to compliment people, that it would spoil them somehow. You always had to follow it up by spitting on the ground to foil the evil eye. As a speaker and performer myself, it’s easy to see how you can get addicted to the applause—performers live for it. But praise in the absence of substance can create a monster. Me, I like to know what I did well, to learn what resonated, but like you, I’m always asking, “What could I do better next time?” But that’s the key: NEXT time. Your friend was right about enjoying the moment; you’ve earned it. Accept the good in the moment and rather than regret what you did not do well (which is not productive), simply use it to improve the NEXT time. Good luck on your new launch, by the way. Sounds exciting.
I read your post and I can accept only a part of it.
Criticism is what make you greater and you should never be shy about it but it does not mean you should not receive compliment about what you achieved.
Myself I praise my co-worker every day and I push harder on them to make the most incredible things every day and they do! They do it with a large smile on their face because they know that we will all live an amazing day today. If you do things with no enlightment one day you will just run for an other challenge!
Let’s make everything we do every day with joy and no fear to not be perfect. And make sure that tomorrow you will not repeat mistake from the past!
Find a way to be hard on yourself without robbing people of the opportunity to develop encouragement skills.
Ideally others’ kindness and our own harshness will balance themselves.
A really constructive way of looking at things, thanks Derek. I’ve never really heard this idea put this way before so it’s certainly something I’m going to share and be conscious of going forward.
I do think it can be a difficult balancing act though, if you’re someone who is naturally critical of yourself. Sometimes these things run deeper into how you think about everything.
This may be a trivial example – but I’ve enjoyed baking bread since I was a kid, so I guess around 20 years. For me there is just something special and almost magical about freshly baked artisan bread fresh out the oven. I love the touch and feel aspect of how the dough changes, and how it’s not pure science but very much a hard earned craft that you can always work on. Last year I attempted to my first sourdough – that’s probably one of the oldest forms of bread making, using wild yeasts that occur naturally, rather than commercial yeast. The first few were OK but the learning curve was quite quick and soon after I was making exactly what I’d dreamed of making – possibly the most beautiful and humble bread you can make. But I was never happy with any of it. There was always something to do better or work on. A few months in a friend said “Hey Rich, this is by far the most beautiful looking and tasting bread I’ve ever had in my life, you need to stop being so hard on yourself!”.
Now this is bread making and not business (well, not for me), but it did make me realise that I need to learn to be happy when people say nice things to me. That’s all. Be critical but be happy when someone tells you something nice too.
I think it depends on your self awareness in regards to your ego.
I am a person who is overly critical of myself, so getting reminded that I am doing a good job can help provide a counterbalance. There are other people I know, who contrary to actual performance, will think they are the greatest person ever so complimenting them gives them less incentive to take a critical eye to improve.
I think (while very uncommon) your friend could have said, “MAN! You killed it. I’ll follow up with you tomorrow to make your next speeches even better, but for right now soak it in.” …or they could have just followed up with an email the next day praising you again and giving you points to consider.
In the end it’s not either/or, it’s YES AND. Yes, please tell me what I did well or general compliments AND point out weak areas to improve.
I myself have a problem with the whole “ego is the enemy” concept. Because that is – in my opinion – a wonderful “quest” the ego created for itself:
Something to fight against a whole lifetime!
If something is the enemy this is still “ego”. And as long something inside yourself is the enemy – you always loose.
I am totally on your side, that we should strive to get better – on the other hand: What is so wrong about feeling good?
It is not enlightend?
It is not “spiritual”?
Not my approach to life. I believe it’s good to feel good (wild concept) – and that love is the answer. Not finding another enemy to fight.
Take care and have a great day!
(Yes! Feel good! 😉 )