It’s always easier to criticize than to create


Have you ever found yourself in a meeting or discussion where nobody wants to be the first one to speak up? That can be a challenging situation in which the silence is “deafening”. Leaders often find themselves in situations in which they have to initiate dialog. It can be difficult to be the first one to share your thoughts, especially when the topic at hand is a sensitive one or when you know that your ideas will be met with criticism. This applies whether you’re leading dialog internally at your organization or externally with clients or other stakeholders like a board.

A mentor once told me, “it’s always easier to criticize than to create.” I agree with that statement and, in general, someone gets “extra points” for being the first to speak. But not everyone is wired that way. Some people are naturally reserved and introverted, so they’re not likely to be the first to speak up. When they do speak, they’re rarely critical. They just don’t want to be the first one out on the dance floor.

Other people are very deliberate about not speaking first. Dealing with such individuals can be a challenge because it’s not immediately clear whether they’re just trying to poke holes in someone else’s idea or they’re trying to offer constructive feedback to refine an idea or thought. More on that in a minute.

One way to “break the ice” is to ask an open-ended question that encourages discussion. Sometimes that strategy will work and it’ll inspire people to speak up. A simple question like, “what are some ways we could handle this situation?” creates a space for others to share their thoughts and ideas. Once the open-ended question is asked, then there should be a period of silence in which the dialog initiator gives ample time for others to speak. I personally struggle with this because silence can be awkward. Yet, sometimes that awkwardness is needed to give others time to chime in.

What happens if no-one speaks? Well, sometimes the leader must break that awkward silence in order to seed an idea, thought, or suggestion to get the dialog started. Some people find it easier to create and articulate original thoughts than others. So what happens when an original thought is expressed and suddenly one or more people start criticizing it? The easiest job in the world is to be an arm-chair critic of someone else’s work, but much harder to come up with original thoughts. How can one distinguish between constructive feedback vs. complaining?

Criticism can be a helpful for growth and improvement when it is constructive and based on facts. Constructive criticism provides specific feedback intended to improve something. It focuses on actions or behaviors that can be changed and offers specific suggestions for how to make those changes. Valid criticism can help a leader identify blind spots and recognize areas for improvement. Leaders need feedback.

On the other hand, complaining is not the same as valid criticism. Complaining is often unfocused, vague, and unproductive. It doesn’t offer any real solutions or suggestions for improvement. Instead, complaining often expresses frustration with a situation. It can be tempting to dismiss complaining as unimportant, but it’s important to remember that it can still have a negative impact on a team or organization. Complaining can lower morale, reduce productivity, and create a toxic work environment. It can also frustrate the person who was the first person to speak up with the original idea in the first place.

So, how can a leader distinguish between valid criticism and complaining? Here are a few key differences:

  1. Focus: Valid criticism is focused on specific actions or behaviors that can be changed. It zooms in on how something can be made better with a tangible recommendation. Complaining is often unfocused and vague.
  2. Tone: Valid criticism is delivered in a professional and respectful tone. It acknowledges the gist of the original thought and suggests refinement. Complaining is often emotional and can be delivered in a confrontational or negative tone. It’s often dismissive with no recognition of the original idea.
  3. Solutions: Valid criticism offers suggestions or solutions for how to improve. The best solutions are specific and relevant. Complaining does not offer any real solutions.
  4. Source: Valid criticism often comes from people who have experience or expertise in the area being criticized. Complaining can come from anyone, regardless of their level of knowledge or expertise.

As a leader, be open to feedback and criticism, but be able to distinguish between valid criticism and complaining. When you receive feedback, take the time to evaluate it objectively and determine whether it is valid or just complaining. If it is valid, use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. If it is just complaining, try to redirect the conversation towards finding solutions or addressing the root cause of the issue. By doing so, you can create a positive environment that encourages collaboration, growth, and productivity while also addressing any valid concerns or criticisms.

It’s important to remember that “It’s always easier to criticize than to create.” Here’s to all of the creators out there. Your unique perspective and creativity are invaluable contributions to the world. Keep creating!

[Joe Domaleski, a Fayette County resident for 25 years, is the owner of Country Fried Creative – an award-winning digital marketing agency located in Peachtree City. His company was the Fayette Chamber’s 2021 Small Business of the Year.  Joe is a husband, father of three grown children, and proud Army veteran.  He has an MBA from Georgia State University and enjoys sharing his perspectives drawing from thirty years of business leadership experience. ]