How I Learned to be Less Critical of Others

I worry about being wrong. I worry about confidently writing about subjects, or acting on feedback only to realize that my underlying knowledge was wrong. Accepting that this is going to happen isn’t easy for me, but that acceptance leads to amazing things – both for myself and my view of others.

light in the dark

Human Element

In early 2016, a group of us at my work participated in a week-long bonding and leadership training event called The Human Element. It was an extremely transformative week – filled with the 8 of us learning about ourselves, sharing deep motivations and personal stories and lots of collective crying. Imagine ~44 hours of group therapy + some nights having dinner together.

One concept that stuck with me from this emotional roller coaster of a week was the concept of competence, significance, and likability. Here’s a quick look at what these topics mean:

  • Competence – Feeling capable, intelligent and self-sufficient.
  • Significance – Feeling important, worthwhile and meaningful.
  • Likability – Feeling good about oneself in the presence of other people.

For each of these three topics, there are multiple dimensions to think about each as well:

  • How do you feel towards others about each of these? Do you feel most people are competent? Significant? Likeable?
  • How do you want to feel towards other people about each of these? Do you want to perceive other people as more or less competent? Significant? Likeable?
  • How do people feel towards you about each of these? Do people think you are competent? Significant? Likeable?
  • How do you want people to feel towards you about each of these? Do you want people to find you more or less competent? Significant? Likeable?
  • How do you feel about each of these? Do you feel competent? Significant? Likeable?
  • How do you want to feel about each of these? Do you feel competent? Significant? Likeable?

We took a written test to put numbers to these wants and feelings, but you could approximate that same with a 0-9 scale for each question and each topic (18 total numbers). If you want to try putting numbers to those 18, go for it! The key here for me was the difference between how I feel and how I want to feel. If for instance, you want to feel significant and important, but you don’t feel as though people see you as that, the difference would be something to explore. Are your expectations of other people too high? Are you being true to yourself? Would bringing what you want to feel and what you actually feel closer to the same help you be happier in that area? If so, how could you do it?


The area that stood out like a sore thumb for me in this area was around competence – specifically the difference between “I feel people are competent” and “I want to feel people are competent”. While the other 5 pairs of questions had the same number for want/feel, the competence number was a 3 for “I feel people are competent” and a 9 for “I want to feel people are competent”. I was more than shocked – am I really that critical of people? Am I that much of a perfectionist?

These questions gave me a lot to think about. If I was going to be leading people in my role, the last thing I wanted was for them to think I have no confidence in their abilities. It was clear that I wanted to change, but how?

Find Strengths

After much soul-searching, I hit on a point that helped me make sense of this. I try to hold myself to a very high standard. That’s not to say I’m amazing, or super confident, but I set lofty goals and work toward them and that makes me happy. I believe that to be one of my strengths. Measuring my perceived top strength to others who might not even be thinking about this would, of course, be setting others up for failure.

Instead, I started talking with people and better understanding what each person’s strength was. What was their competitive advantage that inspires and motivates them? What were they most passionate about now and in the future? What did they want to learn? Where did they want to be months or years from now? After the week of Human Element, I started taking each member of my team out for lunch and learning each of these things about each of them. It proved to be a missing piece that helped me better empathize with others.

What about you? Are there any areas where what you want is drastically different from what you feel? Is there anything you can do about it?

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Welcome! I'm . I'm a full-stack product developer in Salt Lake City, UT. I love enlivening experiences, visualizing data, and making playful websites.

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