The 11 Commandments of Criticism

Posted on June 9, 2017

For most, giving criticism often arouses the anger, anxiety, and tears in the recipient. At work, it often sours relationships with the boss, colleagues, staff, and clients too. At home, there is abundant research indicating mismanaged criticism is a prelude to an unhappy marriage, and contributes to poor parenting skills. On the other hand, there has also been research findings indicating that criticism can bring about many benefits. Criticism can be used as a tool to promote intimacy, enhance performance, and develop positive relationships.

Hendrie Weisinger offers his checklist of criticism rules to ensure the intent of their criticism—to serve its recipient—is met:

1. Perceive criticism as great critics do.
Giving criticism productively starts with aligning your beliefs to the historical purpose of criticism — to communicate, educate, and motivate to do better. See criticism as an opportunity to help someone do better.

2. Manage your emotions
Criticism communicated with anger and disappointment lessens the positive impact of your message. Before you criticize, calm yourself, perhaps by using productive self-talk (“stay focused, breath slowly”) and by remembering your positive intent.

3. Be strategic
Think about how you can communicate the information so he/she will be receptive. Next, anticipate their reaction and how you will respond if he/she becomes angry, silent, or retaliatory, cries, or flatly denies what you say.

4. Protect self-esteem
Avoid destructive labels, and make criticism a matter of differences, not a right-wrong issue; the latter creates power struggles.

5. Leverage timing
Consider if it is the right time to offer your evaluation. There is a time and a place for everything and you can phrase criticism perfectly but if the timing is off, all is for naught.

6. Be improvement-oriented
You can’t change the past, so stop telling them her what they did wrong; it will only evoke defensiveness. Focus on how results and behavior can be improved by emphasizing future performance.

7. Remember the merits without the 'But'
Criticism is an evaluation of merits and demerits, not merits but demerits. The word "but" negates. Remembering the merits also helps both parties keep criticism in perspective.

8. Acknowledge your subjectivity
Your criticism is not a fact nor should it sound like an accusation. Take responsibility for your thoughts and minimize defensiveness; “In my opinion… I think… This is how it looks to me,” are non-accusatory and help make recipients curious to hear your thoughts.

9. Put motivation into your criticism
People change for themselves. Before you criticize, consider how is this going to help your recipient. Are there tangible incentives (raise, promotion) or intangible incentives (recognition, group inclusion)?

10. Know your criterion
Avoid criticism conflict by identifying, clarifying, and communicating the criteria you use for formulating your criticisms. People use different criterion to evaluate the same work, and often interpret the same criterion differently.

11. Reinforce, troubleshoot, back to being strategic
When you note a positive response to your criticism, make sure you support the efforts by offering praise such as “Thank you for being open to what I have to say,”. If you are not getting the results, step back, look at how you are presenting the criticism, and try a different approach… there is always another option!

Category(s):Sensitivity to Criticism

Source material from Psychology Today