Constructive vs. Destructive Criticism

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Let’s be honest, who seeks criticism eagerly? My first reaction to someone who tells me I don’t live up to her standards isn’t a warm fuzzy unless I asked for her opinion. “You should NEVER wear that color!” Okay, thank you, but I like this color. Constructive criticism might be beneficial, but only when used with wisdom and love. Frankly, few people are good enough to use constructive criticism well.

How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.

Benjamin Disraeli

Too many people believe that correction and criticism are synonymous when, in fact, they have precious little in common. Effective compassionate leaders consider the needs of others before their own; designing lessons and activities to maximize the follower, whether human or horse.

Helpfulness uses correction and avoids criticism whenever possible. Cutting somebody down is never a loving act. Criticism is defined by the heart of the receiver. We may not intend to hurt, but when it hurts, it hurts. Correction demonstrates something better, communicated with encouragement and goodwill.

Fastest Way to Strangle Motivation

At its best, criticism is an observation tied to a well-intentioned suggestion. At worst, it’s a judgment without benefit. Criticism says, “You did wrong. You aren’t good. You’re a failure.” Criticism is usually received personally, with the arrow traveling directly to the heart.

The flip side of “reward every try” is penalizing genuine effort, which strangles motivation. Horses (and everyone else) learn to quit when the reward for their honest effort is punishment.

How long would you stick around if someone asked you for something, you try your best to give it, but all you get for your effort is:

“No!” (Slap.)

“No!” (Slap.)

“No!” (Slap.)

Never Criticize Honest Effort

Criticism informs you that you aren’t doing something the way someone else wants you to. Punishment adds something punitive to the equation, while correction shares suggestions for improvement and guides you in the right direction.

Horses get a lot of criticism and way too much undeserved punishment. Why do we love horses so much? Because horses so seldom retaliate; choosing patience, perseverance, and grace when they could do serious damage; offering us the benefit of their doubt.

When a horse (or anyone) learns that their best effort gets the same result as no effort at all, it quits. There’s no reason left to try. Every shred of motivation and goodwill is history and the relationship is bankrupt.

What Constructive Criticism Looks Like

Since we’re supposed to be the intelligent side of the horse–human equation, the buck stops on our shoulders. When your horse isn’t behaving as you want, diagnose the cause and select the proper response. Keep these things in mind:

  • Motivation inspires and creates willingness.
  • Correction intends to produce improvement.
  • Punishment exists to extinguish dangerous behaviors.

If your horse’s want to isn’t strong enough, choose and offer a higher-value motivator. Constructive criticism looks like excellent teaching.

These rules apply as much to people as they do horses. Help your horse, or anyone else, achieve goals by providing assistance, not judgment.


This article is an excerpt from The Breath of Horse Crazy.


Related post: 10 Ways to Transform Criticism into Encouragement

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Lynn Baber

Lynn Baber

Lynn Baber is a best-selling Christian author, speaker, and coach who helps people accomplish God's unique purpose for them and advance His kingdom on earth. She's also a retired World and National Champion horse trainer and breeder.

Lynn Baber

Lynn Baber

Lynn Baber is a best-selling Christian author, speaker, and coach who helps people accomplish God's unique purpose for them and advance His kingdom on earth. She's also a retired World and National Champion horse trainer and breeder.

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