How to Be Kind when Criticizing Others

“You missed a spot!”

“You’re leaving the house looking like that?”

Criticism. Does anyone truly enjoy receiving criticism? Does anyone truly enjoy giving criticism? It’s hard to criticize without causing anger, hurt or defensiveness. You could take the ostrich approach and just bury your head in the sand and ignore others’ failings. Sometimes that is the best approach, especially for trivial matters. However, just because people don’t like being criticized, that doesn’t mean we can avoid doing it. If we allow people to continue doing the wrong thing, we build up feelings of resentment. The secret is to criticize with kindness, and sparingly.

To criticize with kindness, consider Why, When and How?

Why Criticize?

First, the bad reasons to criticize:
     o To hurt someone
     o To vent frustrations or anger
     o To build up your own ego (it makes you feel superior)
Good reasons to criticize include
     o Helping someone improve—we want to help someone get better
     o Making a necessary change—we want something done differently
     o Discussion to consider change—we want to start or further discussion

When to Criticize? Timing is important. Don’t criticize when you or the other person is rushed or upset. Typically, you would want to offer criticism in private. Remember the old adage: “Criticize in Private, Praise in Public.” Receiving criticism is difficult enough, but having other people witness the event is sheer agony. Allow people to “save face” by criticizing them privately.

Also, make sure that people understand your expectations or standards and how to meet them. Is more training necessary? Do people have the right tools? Take the blame whenever you can. It will soften the criticism and really turn it back on yourself. “I don’t think I explained clearly enough how to do this. . .”

How to Criticize?
1. Consider your tone of voice, body language and attitude. I’ve learned that you can say almost anything with a warm, genuine smile and not get hit (physically or verbally!).
2. If possible, truthfully admit “I’ve made the same mistake myself.” This phrase does wonders for reducing the air of superiority that accompanies most criticism.
3. Be specific in your criticism. Don’t just say, “You did a bad job cleaning the windows.” Say something like, “The windows have streaks. Our customers expect clear windows.” Try to explain why something needs to change.
4. Do not attack the person; attack the problem.
5. Sandwich the criticism with positive comments.

“Sandwich” Technique

I learned this technique in Toastmasters. Not only does it work for evaluating speeches, but it also works in everyday work and social situations. Sandwich the critical feedback between compliments or positive feedback. People love sincere compliments and positive feedback.

For example, my 17 year-old daughter cleans my house. Recently I needed to address an area for improvement.

Compliment: Clara, you are such a hard worker! You’re much better at cleaning than I was at your age.
Gentle Feedback: You might not have noticed that the lower edge of the shower in the downstairs bathroom gets really dusty. I know it’s easy to miss. I’m sure you could just swipe it clean when you are in that area.
Compliment: I really love having you clean my house. Keep up the good work!

Don’t “pop the balloon” with a “but”

Notice I don’t use the word “but” (or the fancier versions of “but:” “however” or “although”). If I had said something like, “You are such a hard worker! You’re much better at cleaning than I was at your age, but you missed the lower edge of the shower. . .” The “but” negates the compliment. Giving a compliment and then negating it with “but” is like inflating a balloon and then taking a pin and popping it.

My 20 year old son was recently looking for work. In this economy, you need to make the best first impression possible. My son’s “bed head” might have been appropriate for an indie film, but not for looking for a job.
Compliment: Sean, good choice in clothes! The dark pants and button-down shirt look sharp! They’ll make a great first impression.
Gentle Feedback: You know, I think you could make an even better first impression with your hair groomed to match your clothes.
Compliment: You look so handsome dressed so nicely!

When you use the sandwich technique, you may have people feeling glad that you critcized them!  Criticize with kindness.


About Diane Windingland
I speak for organizations that want their people to have better, more profitable conversations.

One Response to How to Be Kind when Criticizing Others

  1. RRR in Mpls says:

    Where was that advice when I was growing up? Wow. Better late than never I guess–thanks for the refresher course!

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