A Better Story

Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.

One common problem with criticism is that it falls on deaf ears. Not surprisingly, given that criticism is often emotional, badly framed, in short, not constructive.

But there is a deeper issue why most criticism does not work — it dos not offer a better story.

For many people, the things that are criticized are often connected to their identity, their sense of purpose and competence. Often, they connect to moral foundations — attack a position and these foundations begin to shake. The consequence: People reject the criticism so that their house does not collapse.

And yeah, you can address these foundations, the underlying issues. Be it a performance mindset instead of a growth mindset, or that people cling to positions because it makes them feel moral («people who believe x are moral», «I believe x, so I am moral», «I cannot stop believing x, or I no longer feel moral, and that usually means bad things for an individual», see «How to have Impossible Conversations» by Boghossian & Lindsay, 2019).

But even more so, I think you need to offer people a better story. A way to show how their positions can make them more moral, a better person, thus a better underlying reason to hold certain positions. Perhaps even with action steps that are adapted to that person.

Otherwise, if you only criticize the worldview, you’ll not only will not get the person to change, you’ll never put something better in its place.