Criticism: Making it Help – Not Hurt

There will always be times when unpleasant things have to be said. And if they’re not said, problems will fester. The skill of communicating your concerns without alienating the other is valuable. Being able to hear another’s concerns about your behavior, and to learn from him/her, is a useful skill too.

Giving Criticism

This must be done sensitively. The receiver must feel respected and listened to. First emphasize good things about them. Try the “sandwich” technique: two or three compliments first, then the one criticism. Always keep criticism to the bare minimum.

Do be honest, but don’t sweat the small stuff. Remember to reinforce the positive. Praising good behavior creates good feelings, makes him/her feel valued and steers them in the right direction. Then you have good feelings in the bank for future times.

Be open to responses to your critiques. Bear in mind the longer-term relationship—the idea is that in raising issues you are helping the relationship be happier.

Try to empathize with the one you’re critiquing, and to see how the situation must look to him/her, what the problem behavior means to them. Be interested in their perceptions— this may help both figure out where the disagreements started.

Avoid name-calling or saying what you think their “real motives” are. Stick to what the person does, don’t remark on overall personality.

Keep direct eye contact. This says you want to engage him/her in dialogue, not attack. Consistent eye contact also conveys that you’re taking full responsibility for your words, not being shifty or mean, and that you want to dialogue about the situation.

Remember, many harsh and personal criticisms can’t be undone; they stay in the other’s mind and create enmity. This in turn creates paranoia and discomfort in you and then it gets harder to get the relationship back on track.

CriticismMakingItHelp-350x385Receiving Criticism

This is tough for everybody. So brace yourself, but keep an open mind. While it may hurt in the short run, when your feelings calm down you may find out you’ve learned something good. If you wonder how others see you—this is one way to learn. You may end up thanking the critic for going out on a limb to point out something you didn’t realize.

Is the person trying to get closer to you by bringing up a problem so the relationship can be improved? If so, be grateful and respond in a constructive problem-solving manner. Avoid keeping score.

Resist the temptation to hit back or get overly defensive. Promise to think points over and get back to the critic. Keep all conversations to the point, don’t over-personalize. You can’t please all the people all the time, nor can everyone like you. Nor can you like or agree with everyone else. You can agree to disagree.

If you feel the critique is mean-spirited and a putdown, say, “I’m the best judge of my own behavior.” or “I disagree with your comments about me.”

If your feelings are hurt, you can say so. If the person is abusive, inform him/her that you won’t accept abuse and that you’ll discuss things another time without putdowns. Take the high


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Simon Hearn has been counselling since 1981 in a variety of settings including private practice, hospitals, forensic units and vocational rehabilitation. He graduated with a Ph.D. in Psychology from Simon Fraser University in 1994 and is a member of the BC College of Psychologists and the BC Psychological Association.

Simon works mainly with adults, using a collaborative approach to counselling; this approach encourages clients to develop their own resources to grow in understanding themselves and making wise choices.

Simon draws on a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives in his psychotherapy work and has completed the second level of training in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a powerful method for helping people get over trauma and build self confidence and self-esteem.




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