A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

8 Ways Successful People Criticize Others Without Offending Them

No hurt feelings necessary.

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Start with praise

It’s easier to hear something negative after we are praised for what we have done well. Be sincere about your honest appreciation for the other person and their hard work to soften the blow, and to avoid coming off as though you’re reprimanding them. Try to avoid the word “but” after the praise and instead use the word “and.” For example, “We’re really proud of you for raising your grades, and if you keep up the good work, you can get your algebra grade up as well.”

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Don’t make it personal

Make your criticism about work or behavior you’d like to see change, not about personality or personal attributes. Give criticism without being critical of the other person and recognize barriers that might be in their way. Follow up with offering up why it’ll be beneficial to the other person to change their behavior. For example, “I know we have a crazy schedule. Try to stick to your deadlines next time to avoid making your workload even heavier the following week,” will be much better received than saying, “you’re too slow and need to keep up with your deadlines.”

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Be specific

Vague comments won’t be taken seriously, and it’s much more effective to give specific feedback. For example, “I’d love to see more graphs and images included in your presentations,” or “This room could be used as an office if you removed some of the clutter.” That way, the other person will know exactly how and what to improve in the future.

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Be kind

Whenever you are about to give some constructive feedback, ask yourself how you can state your comments in the most positive way possible. People have a hard time accepting criticism, so try to avoid coming off as harsh or inconsiderate. If you’re struggling, think about how you would want to receive the same criticism. In the end, it’s all about being respectful.

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Lead by example

If there is something you would like an employer, friend, or child to accomplish in a specific way, it is best to lead by example. Dale Carnegie, author of the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, says that “an effective way to correct others mistakes is to call attention to their mistakes indirectly.” For example, you can say, “Let me show you how I’ve organized my office space, it’s really helped me to be more productive.” Showing rather than telling is typically a well-received way to improve someone’s behavior.

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Criticize your own behavior first

Talk about your own mistakes with a personal anecdote as a way to relate to the person you are constructively criticizing. For example, “When I was in school, it was really hard for me to keep up with my deadlines, but I started keeping track of my assignments on my calendar and my work ethic really improved.” This way, you’re not talking down to the other person, but merely offering a suggestion from your own personal life. This tip can also work if there has been any kind of an argument between you and a loved one. If so, recognize your own fault in the situation, and then go on to say what you wish the other person had done differently.

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Ask questions instead of giving orders

Use phrases like “You might consider this,” “Do you think that would work?” or “What do you think?” Offer a suggestion, but ultimately let others make their own decisions. This will help them learn from their mistakes. Plus, asking questions stimulates creative thinking about a problem, which can ultimately lead to better solutions. Dale Carnegie says, “a technique like that saves a person’s pride and gives him or her a feeling of importance. It encourages cooperation instead of rebellion.”

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Pick the right time

Try not to criticize someone in front of peers, co-workers, or friends. It’s also best not to offer feedback about something in the moment or right after it happened. Pick a time when the other person isn’t overwhelmed to give them constructive feedback in private.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest