How to Criticize Effectively

I came across a mind-blowing book I bought for 25 cents. Sometimes, there’s gold in the used book pile at your library!

It’s called The Official Criticism Manual by Deborah Bright.

She has been teaching folks how to, what I would call, Proactively give criticism for decades. The book is from 1991. Here are some terrific nuggets from that book.

These are myths about criticism. It may change your thinking 180 degrees. I’ve also included some suggested solutions to the problems with criticizing (some are Deb’s, some are mine).

Myth #1 – Criticism can sometimes be positive.

I love it. Let’s face it, criticism is never positive so let’s not hide behind jargon like constructive feedback or some other bull.

Solution: Criticism is negative and let’s have an honest discussion about it. I think your employee, or wife, or friend or whoever you criticize will be more open to it if you just let them know that. Wouldn’t you?

More importantly, let the receiver know that their job or relationship is not in jeopardy. You just want to fine tune their performance. That’s it.

Myth #2 – Criticism is not personal.


It’s always personal, my friends.

Solution: Recognize that if you criticize someone, they may take offense. So, step into their shoes. How do you feel when you get criticized? It also helps to sincerely praise them as well. Frame the conversation that you don’t know exactly what to do, but you need to get this off your chest. Preemptively apologize if your words may hurt their feelings.

And this leads to one of the biggest myths about criticism.

Myth #3 – It’s harder to receive criticism than to give it.

Research shows that givers of criticism typically have a very difficult time with it. Unless you’re a sociopath, you don’t like to offend people or lose a relationship over a conversation.

Solution: Giving criticism is a skill. One that can be learned. In business school, we don’t learn how to properly give criticism. How do you frame it so that both parties walk away sensing that there was honest communication and that things improved because the right action will be taken? Therefore, the solution is to consider these things – be sensitive, come at it from a frame that you want things to improve.

Myth #4 – Employees don’t want to be criticized.

The flipside is that employees want constructive feedback that will help them do their job. They may not like the way it’s delivered. But nevertheless, honest, helpful criticism will is expected. How can you get better without learning about how to do it better?

With all of these myths, and their solutions, the common denominator is learning How to give criticism and frame it in such a way that it’s building someone up.

That’s where the book comes in and that’s where leadership training can benefit virtually anyone who wants to create a sustainable culture of winning at their organization.

Big shout out to Dr. Deb.

[Andrew Grinbaum teaches business communication as a professor, consults with companies on marketing strategy, and leads memorable workshops and trainings for companies around the globe. Read his white papers at –]

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