Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Compassionate Criticism

The normal daily game of the academic world is intellectual jousting. Any gathering of academics will be full of intellectual spark and challenges to ideas and proposals presented. My lunch with several colleagues today was full of interesting repartee and exploration of ideas. It was a very congenial gathering with respect for others opinions and a synergistic exchange. If ideas were criticized it was done in a respectful and gentle manner. Don't get me wrong, the criticism could be strong.

This leads me to thinking about the critical behavior of senior faculty of the university. As I have matured I have learned to couch my criticism in terms that focus on the idea rather than on the person. Unfortunately, I have been at presentations where the critics have challenged the speaker in such a way to personally attack the person. And I have been on the receiving end of that kind of criticism over my career as well. In an open forum I believe that we should focus on mutually respectful discourse. The presenter should be prepared and understand the audience as well as the subject to be presented. This respect should include visuals that are readable and clear and appropriately illustrative of the points to be made. In turn the critics can make their points in a constructive manner. My dear wife has taught me that there are non-confrontational ways to make your point and for this I am grateful.

I have noticed that some senior people tend toward using the the sharp end of a stick approach to making a point. However, I also find that equally intellectually sharp senior individuals have developed the skills of what I will call "Compassionate Criticism". I hope I am a member of that latter group.

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