Critics & Cynics: Two Expressions of Doubt

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toll boothCriticism and Cynicism are both expressions of doubt.

In a recent conversation with a client I was presented with an idea and asked if I thought the idea would work.  In that moment I had my doubts but what I did next determined whether I shared my doubts as criticism or cynicism.

I asked the client to explain their understanding of the product offering. Once I listened to my client’s explanation and responded from my knowledge of the subject, I was able to express my doubts critically instead of cynically.

Criticisms is doubt informed by curiosity and a knowledge of a subject matter.

Cynicism is doubt resulting from ignorance and antiquated ways.

Critical doubts are expressed through statements like…

  • “I see the value in what your offering, but I don’t think others will see it in its current form.”
  • “I would subscribe to your idea because I have listened to your whole talk, but if someone only gives you two minutes I doubt they will get it.”

Cynical doubts are expressed through statements like…

  • “Why would anyone ever pay for an idea like that?”
  • “People will never want a computer screen they have to touch.”

Cynicism offers absolute negatives — “no one will ever”, “thats not possible” — coupled with vague reasons for why the negatives are accurate.  When pushed to explain their doubts cynics often reply with phrases like “Well, because.” or “I don’t know. It just won’t work.”  Such responses show a lack of thought beyond the initial expression of doubt.

Criticism offers clear doubts and defined reasons for why the doubts must be addressed. i.e. “Where this idea is lacking is…and this deficiency needs to be addressed so that…”

It is important to never set our sights on completely eliminating doubt in others. 

As Scott Belsky notes, “Learn to savor criticism and shun cynicism by developing an instinct for the difference between thoughtful insights and short-sightedness.”

For a listing of practical ways to “sharpen your instincts” check out Scott’s full article.  [Source Credit] The inspiration for this post including the definitions of doubt as criticism and cynicism come from Scott Belsky’s article on LinkedIn.

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