The Art of Criticism

Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to criticize someone or provide feedback but you hesitated? Or gave comment and things got worse (and probably out of control)? How about receiving criticism or feedback? A situation where someone, like a colleague, your boss, your friend, or your partner criticized you or gave you a harsh comment? How did you feel after that? What was your reaction? Do you think that criticism is bad? Or you think it is good? How can we give or take criticism?

Well, the answer to this question sounds complicated. Criticism is neither good nor bad in nature; it all depends how we give and take it. Is it simple? Not really.

Before I talk about its nature, let us define this term first. It is “the activity of perception, judgment and interpretation”. What we need to learn about is what is called “constructive criticism”. This term refers to the process of offering someone a valid and well-reasoned opinion about their behavior or the quality of their work, in a professional, friendly and positive way. Let me elaborate it further.

In any given situation where there is a need for criticism, there is usually some positive and some negative points. And by nature, criticism is about providing our value judgment or interpretations to others in order to solve issues or improve people or situations. Therefore, there should always be a positive intention behind every criticism.

Now, how can I give and take criticism that produces best results? I am giving you a simple formula for each here.

  • How to Give Criticism?

    To give criticism, we have a simple formula which consists of three steps:

    1. The Guiding Rule: Attack the behavior/ problem, not the person. You need to stick to the issue and focus on specific events or behavior, facts, statistics, numbers, time and date, etc.
    2. Ask the Question: It is very important to ask yourself an important question before criticizing others: “Why am I giving it?”, “Is it going to be helpful?” and “What is my positive intention here?”.
    3. The Criticism Formula: Empathize, Pinpoint and Move Forward.

    First, you need to Empathize, an in order to do that, you need to see things from the other person’s point of view. Put yourself in their shoes. Second, get to the point and talk about the specifics (DO NOT give general comments); be as specific as possible. In other words, Pinpoint the problem. Third, Move Forward by explaining the consequences of the issue or the undesired behavior, and clarifying the negative outcomes.

    Remember that the whole purpose for giving criticism is to have the problem solved and to get better results. You have a positive intention, so, show it and express it. Also remember to to use words like “but” between step 2 and 3 (between pinpointing the problem and moving forward). Instead, you can have a short pause, and then continue. In some instances you can use words or phrases like “and”, “considering what I said, I would like to add that” or “what I like to say is”.

  • How to Take Criticism?

    In order to take criticism, there is a four-step formula; it is called “The AAAA Formula”. It is as follows:

    1. Anticipate: Before responding, anticipate the other person’s intention and reaction. Ask yourself questions like: “What is the positive intention behind this criticism?”, “What can I learn from this criticism?”, or “What will be his/her reaction if I do this/that?”.
    2. Ask Questions: As questions to make sure that you understand the problem and the topic of discussion clearly. Try to become as specific as possible. This will help both of you to talk about the same topic and to avoid misunderstanding.
    3. Agree with Something: When receiving a feedback or comment, it is important that you show your positive attitude and intention. That’s why you need to agree with something to establish a common ground. In other words, look for the opportunity to show your positive intention by agreeing with something (e.g. a fact, numbers, a part of the comment, etc.).
    4. Analyze: Analyze the situation, your own emotions and reactions to behave in a positive and constructive manner.

    As the receivers of  a criticism, we may be provoked to try a fight or flight response from a criticism (although at some points, these strategies are appropriate); usually these are not a good move). Instead, try to improve your communication skills and control your sudden emerging emotions. One famous NLP presupposition says “you are in charge of your mind, and therefore, your results”. It is your mind and you are the one who can control it. Do not let it control you, or other people or circumstances control it for you. You are in charge of it; so take full control of it.



    The provided formulas here are easy to apply; however, it requires practice to master the art of criticism. Keep these notes in your mind and start applying them until the whole process becomes internalized.

    Proper criticism can help every individual focus on specific problems and issues. It helps create an environment of mutual respect, positive attitude and professionalism, because at the end of the day, we all want to improve things around us…

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