(September 2018) 


Last month we looked at conflict in relationships. This month we will consider aspects of how to handle criticism, both in giving and receiving it.

People often think of criticism as being cruel when given and being hard to receive … and it can be, if not given and taken in the correct spirit. When we look at some of the definitions or synonyms for criticism, we can see that it can be viewed both in a negative and positive way.

Dictionary: CRITICISM (1) a discriminating judgment, an evaluation; (2) A severe or unfavourable judgment (3) The principles or rules for judging anything (4) A review, article, etc, expressing a critical judgment

Thesaurus: CRITICISM (1) Judge, evaluate, examine, appraise, dissect, review, analyze. (2) Fault, blame, flay, denounce, ridicule, condemn, slam, roast, rake, scathe, rap

Let’s face it, we all have a blind eye when it comes to ourselves. We don’t see what others see. With that in mind, criticism can be helpful in our seeing those blind spots. I am going to use the word critique to give it a neutral tone.




  • Start off with the GOLDEN RULE. Critique as you would want to be critiqued. Presumably, you are giving feedback to the person so (s)he can make some changes. Therefore you want to deliver your message in a manner that will best keep the person from becoming defensive.
  • Watch your communication: What you say isn’t the only factor in conversation. The tone you use as well as your body stance all send a message. (See March 2018 blog for interaction with others that describe body language, facial expressions, eye contact, and tone/level of voice). Communication receptivity relates to 7% spoken word, 23% tone of voice, 70% body language.
  • Begin on a positive note. If you start off with something positive or praiseworthy, it helps to let the person know that you are on his side, wanting to help, not just seeing negative things.

Personality example: “You are one of the friendliest people I know.”

Performance example: “You really have a great deal of knowledge about that.”

  • Focus on the situation, not the person. This makes you a witness, not a judge. Don’t make assumptions that this is a regular action on the part of the person. The person may not be consistent with regards to different people, circumstances, etc.


Personality example: Instead of “You hogged the conversation.” a more positive approach would be Charlie tried to speak several times but you kept talking.”

Performance example: Instead of Your voice was too softa more positive approach would beI couldn’t follow your conversation because I couldn’t hear you


  • Be specific; avoid generalizations. In order to look at doing something differently, the person needs to know exactly what you saw/heard. Don’t be vague. If you made the observation, use the one that you have seen.


Personality example: Instead of “You should be more aware of people’s reactions.” a more positive approach would be “I noticed when you tried to hug Carol, she backed away.”

Performance example: Instead of Remember to keep facing the audience.a more positive approach would beWhen you were doing the end of the skit, your back was to the audience.


  • Focus on what would be helpful. If possible, give an example of what the person might do to improve. Don’t talk about what is out of the person’s control. Things out of the person’s control are things like physical features, etc.


Personality example: Instead of You don’t listen when I talk to you.” a more positive approach would beWhen I talk to you, I know you’re listening when you reply”

Performance example: Instead of Stop looking at the floor when you are speaking.” a more positive approach would beIt helps to keep the audience’s attention if you have eye contact with them.


  • End on a positive note. Even if you have to repeat the positive given at the beginning, it is a good idea to let the last comment be one of an affirmative.



  • Don’t Take It Personally. Avoid becoming defensive.  If you become defensive about the feedback, you will not hear what the person is trying to say.
  • Don’t counter-attack. The instinct might be to volley back criticism about the person but this is not the time for you to critique. Keep the focus clear by clarifying exactly what you are being asked to improve and how you are to do so.
  • Listen carefully. Consider what is being said (the message), not how it is said (words and tone). Not everyone has tact or discretion in communicating. Give the benefit of the doubt that the person has good intentions.
  • Make sure you understand what is said. If unclear, ask for clarification or specifics. Listen carefully; avoid thinking of how to respond.
  • Remember that the purpose is to make your performance better. It may be true. We all have our blind spot so listen to the feedback and evaluate if it is relevant. Ask for suggestions on how to improve if none were given. Evaluate the feedback to see if you can improve.
  • Show kindness. Even if the critique was not done in the best way, smile and thank them for the comment(s).


At some point in your life, you will probably both give and receive criticism. This might be in relation to your family, friends, school, business or career, etc. These guidelines will hopefully help in doing it so that those relationships can be healthy. However, feelings can be bruised regardless of how careful the critique is. We cannot control how others respond but we can do our part in being helpful instead of hurtful.


Judith S. Carscadden