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Are you the one who always points out what is wrong with other people’s behaviour?
Feeling frustrated with other people’s poor choices or mistakes?

A bit of advice: Most people do not want criticism of any kind, positive or otherwise. And, most people push back and dig in their heels when criticized.

People want praise on their attempt at a task and then, possibly, information on how to improve. This is the best case scenario. Notice I said “possibly.” Not all people want or appreciate unsolicited advice on how to improve.

There is a substantial difference between a critique and criticism. A critique is an evaluation of something, providing the strengths and the weaknesses. Criticism is faultfinding. The former is often helpful for positive change. The latter tends to be negative with few, if any, positives associated.

Who wants to be criticized? Try standing up in a group sometime and asking “Who here would like me to come over and criticize them for 10 minutes?” My guess is you will not get any takers.

People seem to be very generous when it comes to dishing out criticism. Dent your parent’s car as a teenager and the criticism forthcoming was abundant, as if you were unaware of the accident or causing the dent was your intention. People in general are all too willing to criticize and far more hesitant to praise.

It would seem as if our philosophy is to err on the side of criticism. We would not want to accidentally praise when it was unwarranted, unsolicited or unexpected, now would we? That really would be a tragedy.  I’m being facetious to make a point that our obsession with criticism is foolish. It is better to err on the side of praise.

There is no shortage of criticism. In fact, we tend to stock pile it – remembering every little thing gone wrong. We wouldn’t want to forget when we or someone else made an error. If we keep count, then we can tally up the score the next time a mistake is made and get into some heavy-duty criticizing, name-calling and blame.

While I am poking fun at our societal tendency to criticize, it is anything but funny. Criticism keeps us focused on the problem instead of the solution. Criticism helps us develop feelings that keep us blocked from finding solutions, such as resentment and depression. And, criticism encourages others to be critical in return and thus a vicious cycle continues.

If you believe providing a critique is appropriate or if it is important to voice your displeasure, here are a few of points to keep in mind:

  • Rarely criticize; praise in abundance.
  • Focus on the behavior only and not the person or personality.
  • Praise a person’s attempt, his/her effort or positive intent.
  • Explain why you are voicing your thoughts.
  • Provide ideas on how to achieve better results next time.
  • Praise and show appreciation for the individual.

Advice on Giving Advice

  • People don’t want to be criticized… so don’t.
  • Praise other people’s attempts as they too want a positive outcome.
  • When offering helpful advice, do so rarely, gently and sensitively, focusing on the positive.
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Daniel Rutley
Daniel Rutley, Psy.D. is a Clinical Psychotherapist in private practice in Mississauga. He is also the best-selling author of Escaping Emotional Entrapment: Freedom from negative thinking and unhealthy emotions. He specializes in depression, anxiety, anger, habit control and relationship issues.