Giving Criticism

The Art of Giving Criticism

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I previously wrote about how to take criticism, a very important life skill. In the comments, someone asked for a post about how to criticize. Good idea! It only makes sense to look at the flip side of the coin.

Some people get a kick out of insulting others. It’s really easy to find some friends, neighbors, politicians, actors, comedians, athletes, or other people who aren’t doing everything exactly to your liking. And when someone is making mistakes, some people feel the need to make sure they know it.

This kind of destructive criticism really doesn’t help anyone. People who partake in destructive criticism often seem to think there’s a limited amount of success to go around, so putting others down makes them feel better about themselves.

That’s crazy. Criticizing someone just for the sake of putting them down makes both of you miserable. Criticism should always be done with the goal of helping the other person improve. So then, how do you deliver constructive criticism?

1. Decide on your objective up front, and remember it.

Are you trying to help the other person improve, or are you trying to win an argument? These are very different goals. What you set out to do sets the tone of the whole conversation, so be clear on your objective.

2. Tread softly.

Remember that they didn’t ask for your advice. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it, but you should approach with caution. They might be very sensitive, or they might have been dealing with a bunch of unconstructive critics lately.

3. Be aware that you might not know the whole story.

While you might see something you think should be done differently, there might actually be a good reason for it. Before going off on an angry rampage, seek to understand the situation first. Things are often more complicated than they appear.

4. Be careful about the word “why.”

Surprisingly, “why” can be a tricky word. You might use it to ask an innocent question, but it might not be heard that way. It can potentially sound a lot more confrontational than intended. Fortunately, there’s a safer substitute: “how?”

Consider the question “Why did you decide to do that?” vs. “How did you decide to do that?” They’re both asking the same thing, but the latter is showing curiosity, while the former is possibly showing judgment.

If you’re just curious, they’ll be happy to explain their decision. When you get a conversation going, it’s better for both of you. And who knows, you might end up seeing things their way.

5. Say what they can do better.

Don’t point out a problem without also presenting a solution. Telling someone about their flaws is just useless complaining, unless you tell them how they can improve. If you don’t know the answer to that, then what good can come of your criticism?

One possible exception to this is if someone’s planning to do something they’re really not cut out for. Some people really shouldn’t start their own business, and some people really shouldn’t try to become professional athletes. Isn’t it a good idea to stop people from heading down the wrong path? Maybe, but probably not.

It’s possible that you could spare them from disappointment, but it’s much more likely you’ll create resentment for standing in their way. If they’re destined to fail, they’ll probably figure that out soon enough. But a lot of the time, well-meaning people will discourage friends from trying something that’s difficult but achievable. It’s usually not your place to decide whether they should take a risk.

Final thoughts

Nobody is perfect, and we should all take the opportunity to try to improve ourselves and others. Criticism has its place and can serve a useful purpose. Armed with the ability to both give and receive criticism well, you’ll be able to make the most of it.

About the writer: Hunter Nuttall wants you to stop sucking and live a life of abundance. Visit his site to learn how to improve your life and your income.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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