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Entrepreneurial Couples Archive

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Articles - Communication Skills in Family - Business

Entrepreneurial couples can transform criticism into feedback

Thursday, December 13, 2001




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


When couples work together they have the opportunity to work with a partner they love and trust most. They also have the opportunity to see the best and worst of their partner . . . day in and day out. Even with the most enlightened people, this constant togetherness can cause conflict. It's wonderful to have closeness, rapport, and regular praise from your sweetheart. It just doesn't feel as wonderful to have your partner know you so well that they give you regular criticism as well.

Frequently the criticism starts out as a desire to help or to improve your partner, but disintegrates into an argument and hard feelings. The object of the criticism gets defensive and complains that the spouse must not love the person he or she married. And the person delivering the "help" feels rejected and misunderstood. Many couples opt for keeping quiet about these things so as not to start a fight. Others duke it out until someone "wins" which of course means that they got way off the subject. But neither of these approaches really takes care of the problem.

If you think about it your spouse may be one of the best people to help you improve. They probably know you better than anyone else and they probably love you more. If you are working together then they also get to see you in more than one role, so again they are in a unique position to help you grow. And that is what criticism is. It is a critical analysis of your behaviors and an offering of advice on how to change, grow and improve yourself.

If you view criticism from this new perspective it may not be so hard to swallow. For example, psychologists know that a person's IQ continues to grow throughout the lifespan well into old age, if the person is actively engaging in life and learning new things. Our natural instinct is to keep growing but we can't do that if we don't reevaluate from time to and time.

We need to check out old habits, rewrite some scripts, take a few risks, and try anything new to break out of a rut. If we don't attend to this we lose out personally. This is equally true for your business. If you intend on keeping your business healthy, you have to meet the needs of a changing marketplace.

The major problem with criticism is that it's harder to swallow when it comes from someone other than you. And it is even harder to swallow when it comes from someone we care a lot about. It hurts twice as much when the one who we love most thinks we need improving. On the other hand when we decide for ourselves that we need to change something, we give ourselves credit for being very smart to come up with such a good idea. This really seems like a silly game to play. Why not use the collective intelligence of those around you? Criticism from another doesn't make you bad or undesirable. It is just feedback for your enlightenment.

A word to the criticizer is in order here too. Just because you mean well and love your partner, doesn't mean he or she will recognize your good intention, especially if your criticism cuts to the heart of one of their most cherished beliefs. So go easy with the criticism.

The best method for delivering a critical comment is to wait for an opportune moment. For example if your partner is feeling particularly bluesy that day, or just lost an important contract, this is not an opportune moment to size up their inadequacies. However, if they are musing about how they might improve a certain situation you can offer your opinion. Be prepared to remind them that you value many things about them as well. You should always offer praise with a criticism so that your partner hears that you care about them even if you think they should change.

There are times, however, when you are criticizing your partner about something that just doesn't matter or is more a statement about your inability to be flexible than it is about their need to change. Take a good look at your criticisms and ask yourself if they are really necessary. Your partner may be doing the very best he or she can. Most likely your partner is 90% of what you would like in a spouse/business partner, but not everything. That would be hard to come by. Why aren't you satisfied with 90%? It might just be that there is a change you need to make, not your spouse.