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How to Give Kind Criticism, and Avoid Being Critical


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Every Thursday is Happiness Day on Zen Habits.

Can you give someone criticism without hurting their feelings or making them angry? Can you do it kindly?

I think that’s a difficult proposition for most people, but in truth it’s possible to give criticism with kindness and have a decent chance of having the person take it constructively.

Last week, it seems that my post on How to Accept Criticism with Grace and Appreciation struck a chord with many people. It seems that most of us have a hard time accepting criticism without getting hurt or angry or defensive … and just as many of us have a hard time giving criticism without making others hurt or angry or defensive.

Today, we’ll look at how to give criticism with kindness, so that the person who receives it is more likely to take it well.

We’ll also look at why criticism is often the wrong approach to take: positive suggestions are even better.

Why We Give Criticism
I think it’s important to step back and look at why people give criticism. There are a few common reasons (although there are many more possible reasons):

Before you offer criticism, consider your reasons. If your reason is one of the first three, then this article is for you. If it’s one of the second three reasons, you won’t get anything out of this article. If that’s the case, I suggest you stop yourself and think long and hard about why you feel the need to do that.

Using criticism to help someone improve, to see a change affected, or to contribute to a discussion, are all good reasons for doing it. Now the question is, how to do it kindly, without attacking, so that your purposes are accomplished.

Why Criticism Hurts or Angers
People don’t often take criticism well, even if it’s done for good reasons (one of the first three reasons above, for example). But why? Why can’t they just simply see it as a way to improve?

Well, there are many reasons, of course, but here are just a few:

Now, there are other reasons, but I wanted to point out a few of the most common. You cannot change some of these things about the person receiving the criticism. You can try, but your success rate probably won’t be very great.

However, you can change your actions — how you communicate the criticism. Or whether you criticize at all.

How to Deliver Criticism Kindly (and Not Criticize At All)
Looking at the above reasons that criticism isn’t taken well, the keys are:

But … what about giving kind criticism? How do you help someone improve, see the changes you want, or contribute to a meaningful discussion?

By offering a specific, positive suggestion instead.

So instead of criticizing, which is rarely taken well, offer a specific, positive suggestion. Let’s take a look at the elements of this method, why it works, and how to do it:

How do you give criticism without hurting or offending? Let us know in the comments, or discuss it on the Zen Habits forums.

If you liked this article, please bookmark it on del.icio.us or vote for it on Digg. I’d appreciate it. :)

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