The 1st Horseman: Criticism
Criticism is not to be confused with delivering feedback or otherwise seeking improvement or change in another person. Criticism becomes, well, criticism when it isn’t constructive (“This report is terrible.”). Criticism, in its most troubling form, focuses on the individual’s personality, character, or interests rather than the specific action or behavior you’d like to see changed (“You are terrible at writing. You’re so disorganized and tangential.”). It’s one thing to criticize without being constructive; it’s another to go after someone for something they are unable to change.
If you find yourself criticizing when you planned on being constructive, it’s best if you don’t deliver your feedback and commentary unless you’ve planned ahead. You’ll need to think through what you’re going to say and stick to your script in order to remain constructive and avoid criticism. It’s also best if you focus your feedback on a single specific behavior, as your reactions to multiple behaviors at once can easily be perceived as criticism. If you find that you cannot deliver feedback without generalizing to the other person’s personality, you’re better off saying nothing at all.
The 2nd Horseman: Contempt
Contempt is any open sign of disrespect toward another. Contempt often involves comments that aim to take the other person down a notch, as well as direct insults. Contempt is also seen in indirect and veiled forms, such as rolling of the eyes and couching insults within “humor.”
Contempt stems from a lack of interest in the other person. When you find that you don’t enjoy or admire someone— perhaps there are things about him or her that used to be interesting or charming and now they’ve lost their luster— contempt can surface unexpectedly. If your disinterest is unavoidable and the relationship is one that isn’t going anywhere, such as a family member or coworker, then you need to focus on managing the relationship itself. People who manage relationships well are able to see the benefit of connecting with many different people, even those they are not fond of. Common ground, no matter how small, is a commodity to be sought and cherished. In the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln, “I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.”