You would have seen or met people who are smart and extremely critical. They are sometimes a pain to be around when it comes to discussing some ideas with them. The moment you share an idea or opinion, they jump to find the holes in it and literally rip it apart. In most cases they succeed – at least in their mind. Very soon, you stop discussing ideas with these people because the only thing you are guaranteed is immediate criticism. If encouragement is what you are looking for, you won’t find it with these people.
Like you, I have wondered why many of these smart people are extremely critical. If they chose to, they can definitely behave in a more positive way, add value to the idea in some way and encourage the person who came with the idea. Instead, they typically choose to kill the idea in one shot.
Over the last few months, I (with the help of two more people) have taken a deep-dive on this topic and this short article is a summary of the findings:
Here are some of the reasons for the behavior:
1. I am just being realistic: Many smart people think that they are just being realistic. They want to help and whip the other person to shape before they get hurt. Yes, they agree that they could do it in a nicer fashion but they strongly believe that being nice may not drive home the point.
2. It’s a matter of style: This is their style and that is who they are – it’s hard for them to change their way now. Many don’t seem to have a problem with their abrasive style and some of them said they are working on changing it for the better.
3. Really?: Some of the smart people we talked to were surprised that they came across as “extremely critical.” They thought that they were just having a heart-to-heart conversation.
4. I care more: Some smart people think that their caring can come across as “being critical.” If they didn’t care they would have not participated in the discussion in the first place. Once they start participating, all stops were removed.
5. I got carried away by passion: Some smart people thought that they were so passionate on that topic that they got carried away.
6. I am just being honest: They are just honest and they really think that focus has to be on the message and not about the way the message is delivered. It is unfair to penalize for honesty, they feel.
While all of the above make sense, there was another (important) hidden reason and here it is:
7. Criticizing others was the side-effect of their constant need for approval.
Let me explain:
Many smart people need on-going approval from the world that they are smart. The keyword is “on-going” – meaning they are not satisfied with getting the validation once but they need to get it again and again and again.
There are two ways of getting that validation – one is the “long term” route and the other one is the “instant gratification” route.
The “long term” route requires “real accomplishments” that will create a “Wow” response from the audience. It is not surprising that “real accomplishments” take a long time because if it took any less time, many people would have done that and it would no longer be “unique enough” to elicit a “Wow” response. So if someone is very smart, they may shave off “some time” from creating something “remarkable” but it DOES take significant time. Also, since nobody has the “midas touch” all their hard work may go waste (when it comes to public recognition) if their project is not a hit.
The “instant gratification” method is seemingly easy. It takes a few minutes to prove that someone else is not as smart as they are. It is by criticizing someone’s else’s smart idea. If they can prove in a matter of seconds that the “smart idea” that was presented was really “not that smart” then chances are that you may appear “relatively smarter” than the person who originally presented the idea. The “instant gratification” method is like a “shortcut” to getting that much sought after approval. It is a way of getting that relative “ego boost” with very little effort as compared to the effort required in the “long term” approach. Start giving them that “ego boost” and they get used to it and criticizing others will become their second nature. It is a trap and they won’t even know they are in one.
Note: If you are going to share this article with someone who is “smart and extremely critical”, please do that with care (for obvious reasons 🙂 )
You may also be interested in other mini-research outcomes:
1. Why some smart people are reluctant to share? (Dec 26, 2009)
2. Why nice people will win BIG TIME in the long run? (Jan 15, 2010)
3. Why some people work hard but don’t get appreciated for that work? (Feb 22, 2010)
4. Why some smart people don’t take action? (Mar 14, 2010)
5. Why many smart people are taken for granted? (Mar 28, 2010)
6. 9 Reasons why MANY smart people go nowhere (Mar 29, 2010)
7. Why MANY smart people take shortcuts and how you can avoid that trap ( May 3, 2010 )