I love the Olympics. I love watching the athletes. I love cheering, and I love seeing people win. I cry at every medal ceremony, whether Canada is represented or not.
What I don’t love is the fact that we all tend to become armchair critics during the Olympics.
We criticize the athletes’ outfits, the colour of their hair, their body art and especially their performance. “Oh, he planted his foot too early on that hurdle!” or “She needs to get a better start so she doesn’t fade in the last 20 metres!” and so on.
(If you’re not watching the Olympics, you’ve likely been the same kind of “armchair critic” during another show, like Dancing with The Stars, America’s Got Talent, or The Voice.)
We’re critical of people even when we haven’t got a clue how their job is done. We aren’t professional athletes, dancers, or singers. We don’t really know how difficult it is to do what they do.
What gives us the right to criticize them? Why do we assume that we “know better”? And more importantly, why do we do this at work, too?
Back in 2011, I wrote an article about finding a cheerleader. When we’re the one being judged, it can often be very beneficial to have someone to help us through the tough times—a cheerleader. I certainly hope the Olympic athletes have cheerleaders and not just critics in their lives so they can continue to be motivated to do their jobs at a high level. I would hate to read in the newspaper that I was the “first loser,” when I came home with “just” a silver medal. The media and the armchair critics are quick to point out that we didn’t win the gold medal, aren’t they?
How many times have we dealt with a co-worker on the phone and afterwards complained to our cubicle mate about how incompetent they were? How many times have we received an email that was riddled with grammar and typing mistakes, and then forwarded it to someone else so they could see how horrible it was? How many hours have been spent discussing what a terrible manager so-and-so is, and how if you were a manager you would do a much better job dealing with the team?
Have you ever been a manager? How do you know what you would do? Do you have the right to say you would be better when you don’t really know? And how is any of this ill-informed criticism even remotely helpful to anyone?
I remember that I was a much better parent before I had children, because once I had my kids, things were far more difficult to deal with than I had thought they would be. After I had kids myself, I stopped criticizing other parents.
We rarely see CEOs of other companies dissing other CEOs. You’ll never hear an executive saying behind his competition’s back, “If they would just get their morale up by offering free lunch once a month their company wouldn’t have such a problem keeping good staff!” We don’t hear them say that because they just don’t do it. It’s wrong, it’s not professional, and we should follow their example.
Yet many of us continue to think that we have all the answers, and that we have the right to criticize others, even when we’ve never done their job.
Let’s agree to stop. Let’s agree to keep our negative opinions to ourselves. Let’s agree that we aren’t qualified to give advice to others on things we have no experience with. Let’s agree that if someone doesn’t ask for our opinion on how they should do their job, we won’t offer it.
Armchair critics are not helpful. Lunchtime critics are not professional. There is no good to be gained by criticizing another person when you have never walked in their shoes.
Instead, let’s focus on the wins. During the Olympics, I consider each and every athlete a winner already—just for having put in all the work and effort necessary to get to the Olympics, and for having qualified. If I could, I’d congratulate each one of them personally.
At work, you and I work with winners, too. Let’s focus on what others do well and celebrate the wins instead of focusing on what someone doesn’t do well. And maybe other people will do the same for us.