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Criticism Or Encouragment: Which Is Better?

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Is he too judgmental? Is she too soft? Or is he the one that validates effort while she's the one that it's hard to earn a compliment from? And which one of them is right?

The conflict between judgment and encouragement has been raging now for decades. It's a battle between the masculine and feminine. One could say the self-esteem movement was a feminine reaction to anything that was perceived to diminish people or make them feel bad. The feminine hates for people to feel bad. But what if it's sometimes necessary?

This is another area where we'll all be better off if we strive to balance the masculine and feminine. Like my friend Robert, a single dad, who "coughs up a feminine moment" for his son on a regular basis. Or like our triumvirate of executives at PAX who between us make clear unequivocal demands and give an abundance of acknowledgment. Whether it's for your children or your students, for your athletes or your employees, how you accomplish it is not nearly as important as that you do.

Like most women, I used to be appalled by the criticism and harsh judgment I witnessed and experienced in men. I thought it was a sure sign of their lack of maturity and evolution. But then I started studying men from the adopted perspective of "What if there is a good reason for everything they do?" That was how I discovered the importance of judgment, however brutal it might seem.

Try understanding it this way: the masculine is responsible for survival and survival comes first. Hence, the masculine relationship to judgment. Someone is either good enough or not. It's not a fuzzy line. We'll all live because of their demonstrated talents and skills, or we'll all die for the lack of them. The masculine never bets on potential. There is too much at stake.

The feminine is driven to enhance the quality of our experience of life. It's concerned about to flavor and beauty; it creates experiences of love and partnership, joy and play. It pays attention to people feeling good about themselves and about life. The feminine notices growth, not just height. It celebrates effort, not just results. It knows that by appreciating effort, you get more of it. It knows that with a big job to do, every pair of hands is welcome.

Think of the feminine love and encouragement, the appreciation of effort and passion and potential, as the sunshine that causes the vine to grow. Think of the masculine judgment of what is good enough, and what is not, as the trellis. Any gardener knows what happens when you try to grow a vine without both. Without the sunshine, it's puny. Without the trellis -- without guidance and structure, without "here" and "not there" -- it becomes a tangled, self-strangling mess.

Problems arise not because there is anything inherently wrong with either the masculine or feminine approach. Conflicts occur because both are on "automatic" and both often fail to notice if the response is appropriate to the situation. Predominantly feminine men and women will respond to every situation as a way to enhance life, ignoring potential threats. Predominantly masculine women and men will respond as if there is always a threat, even when there isn't one.

To balance the masculine and feminine relationships to judgment vs. encouragement, I suggest paying attention to context. Is life really at stake here? Are there principles of success that must be learned or something crucial will truly go awry? If that's the case, then it's completely appropriate to judge harshly and make sure the lesson hits home. It's not a time to pay attention to feelings. Or is this more a matter of self-expression and creativity? When room to make mistakes is essential for progress? Then it is appropriate to provide appreciation for effort and passion and commitment, and encouragement for improvement and potential, while keeping a critical comment in check.