Effective Criticism: Dos and Don’ts, Tips You Need to Know

Tips on effective criticism

How often have we wanted to criticize someone for their good but have shot ourselves in the foot instead? And how many times have we said something to someone and realized that they have taken it all in a negative light? And there must surely have been times when you want to say something but held back your tongue for the fear of offending that person.

Today we will look into the effective ways to criticize someone so that they pay attention, gets the point, and do not get offended at being suggested ways of improving their (and consequently others’) life.

But first let me ask you, how do you feel when someone criticizes something you didn’t even know you did wrong? For example, how would you feel if you have painted a beautiful scenery and your friend says, “There should have been something more in it” or “You could have added more color to the flowers” or worse still, “Why are you wasting your time painting”? Or, if you bring a gift for your partner and they instantly say, “You could have got me a watch instead” or “This is a horrible color” or “Your choice is so messed up”?

All the above are examples of people meaning to convey their dislike or displeasure over something or just wanting to make you understand what you did wrong. Our brain registers whatever negative is said. And more than the positives. This leads to resentment, anger, worry, and various other stress factors.

But what is the solution then? Are we to hold back whatever we want to say just to avoid conflict? There are many situations in life when we have to let the other person know what they are doing wrong and how they can improve. Is there a better way to say or make them understand? Fortunately, NLP comes to our help here.

Most of the time, the following formula can be used to put our point across effectively:

  1. Suggest what you want them to change. Remember, it is very easy to say, “this is not correct” than to say, “you should change this aspect to make it right”.
  2. Tell them the way the change will affect them positively and towards their goal and how it will help either prevent or solve the problem they are facing.
  3. Comment positively on the person’s overall qualities. Everyone has some positive qualities. It may be their way of living, talking, abilities, etc.

Another good way to make a point and let it seep into another person’s consciousness is to make a sandwich, with appreciation at both ends and criticism in between. No matter how much someone has messed up, there is always something that they do right. First of all, we should understand and make it clear in our mind that we are not ‘criticizing’, but rather only ‘giving feedback’. This makes our mind loosen up its anxiety towards the conversation we are about to have.

The feedback sandwich, as it is called in NLP, consists of the following three steps:

Step One: Appreciate the person

Recognize the quality, ability, or talent that this person has which makes your life valuable and easier. This causes them to lower the defenses around their mind and open them up to suggestions. Make sure to keep the recognition sincere and appreciate only things that you find worth appreciating. It is worth the time to make a list of things you like about a person whenever you work or stay close to them as it will help you in the feedback process later on. Start with making a written list and gradually you will improve your senses to the extent that you will be able to make a mental note and it will just flow out in your words naturally. In this step, you can even define a particularly good quality of a person which when overdone becomes a weakness that you would suggest they change.

For example, I am grateful for your sincere efforts in making things comfortable at home for all of us.

Or: I appreciate the efforts you take to guide us in the office about the procedures.

Or: I am amazed at your ability to explain things so clearly to everyone.

Step Two: Challenge the Behaviour           

If step one is done right, this step becomes a lot easier. Remember, in this step we are not criticizing the person, only the behavior or action of his. Clearly state what you think they have done which is not supportive of your relationship. You can use the Five levels to state the feedback precisely and completely. If you want to tell your partner not to criticize you in front of others, you can formulate it as:

  • State the fact: When you criticize me in front of others
  • Thoughts: I think that you are ashamed of me
  • Emotions: I feel embarrassed
  • Importance: This is important to me because you are my partner and I want to always be the best for you and want people to understand that you and I think the best for each other.
  • Action/Expectation: I want to find a way to understand beforehand what my flaws are instead of being criticized in front of others or discussing them between us to make our lives better.

Step Three: Offer your support to the change                                   

You can ask them how you can help in changing the behavior or action. Also, tell them that you would like to know how to remind them when you see the unwanted behavior happening again. Decide mutually on a gesture, action, word, or phrase you can use to make them feel supported. In the case of spouses or partners, you can even decide on romantic rewards or punishments for the avoidance or recurrence of the behavior.

Kulmohan Kaur

Kulmohan Kaur is a Gazetted Officer with Govt. of India. She is an NLP Master Practitioner from European Council of NLP, Life Coach Certification (ANLP, ECNLP). She has a post graduate degree in Psychology. She is an author, blogger, avid reader, motivational Speaker, relationship Guide and Life Coach.

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