We here at ClearerThinking strongly believe that learning to become more rational is a matter of changing your mental habits. In an effort to help people build habits of mind that lead to improved decision-making, we'll be periodically releasing brief automated exercises designed to encourage more careful reasoning. Think of them as bite-sized way to jumpstart your rationality.
We've just released the first of these exercises, which walks you through the process of seeking constructive criticism that you can use to improve yourself. It consists of just a few questions and takes less than 5 minutes to use, and like everything ClearerThinking creates, it's free. Click here to try it.
Why is asking others for constructive criticism so useful and important? One of the most common themes to emerge from recent findings in the cognitive sciences is that it's very difficult to accurately perceive and judge your own behavior. As a result, it's difficult to figure out how to rectify your own shortcomings and patterns of error on your own — in fact, it can be difficult to identify them at all! However, if you're like most people, you have spent lots of time around family members, friends, and trusted colleagues, all of whom have a front-row seat from which to observe your behavior. These folks often harbor valuable insights involving the way you act, including the mistakes you make and how you might avoid them. But since criticizing others without prompting can be awkward, they might not share these useful observations. That's where this exercise comes in. It's easy to put off asking others for feedback on yourself, so the exercise helps you put together a quick plan for reaching out and inviting some constructive criticism from someone you trust.
Click here to give it a shot and learn something new about yourself! And make sure to keep our list of tips for asking others for frank feedback in mind:
Prepare yourself - Emotionally prepare yourself to hear feedback that could be negative. Remind yourself that it's much better to know the truth so that you can improve your flaws, rather than to remain in denial and hang onto those flaws a lot longer.
Be in the right mood - Wait for a time when you're in a positive mood to ask for feedback. If you start in a low mood, anything negative will be harder to hear.
Be encouraging - Assure the other person that you truly want honest feedback, even if it's critical. Otherwise, they may have a hard time being critical.
Set the scope - Make it clear to the other person what kind of feedback you are looking for. Be as specific as you can what you'd like to learn, and why.
Be open-minded - If the person tells you something you don't agree with, don't disagree right away. Chew it on what they say a bit first, and ask them to elaborate.
Make it easy - If the other person is stumped for feedback to give you, start asking more detailed questions, such as "Would you say that my weakness is more in X, or in Y?" That can make the process easier on the other person.
Express gratitude - Tell the other person how appreciative you are at the end of the feedback session, so the person knows that any criticism they gave you was taken well.