How to criticize constructively

I am sure that at various moments in our lives, we’ve had to criticize people. Even though most of us don’t like to be criticized, some people find it easy to criticize others. Perhaps it feels good to dish out criticism to others.

Yet there are others who hesitate to criticize even when they have cause to. That is because they dislike the unpleasant emotions it arouses in the object of criticism.

The catch is that criticism doesn’t always have to be seen as unpleasant, especially if it is towards a productive end. It could be a friendly or professional expression of disapproval or dissatisfaction with an action or thought, without prejudice.

Constructive criticism must be fair, empathetic, solution-oriented and confidential.

  1. Constructive criticism must be fair. Fairness acknowledges that making a mistake is not strange. Mistakes are part of the human experience and so making a mistake is just a way of expressing our humanity.
  2. Constructive criticism must be empathetic. In the Bible, when Jesus was in a position to pronounce on a woman accused of adultery, although He did not approve of her actions, he also empathised with her. The goal of criticism must not be to pull people down but to push them up so they will be better. When we criticise, we must do it with understanding of the perspective and emotion of the other person.
  3. Constructive criticism must offer solution. A constructive critic is not an arm chair critic. A constructive critic is a solution provider. If you don’t have an opinion of an alternative way of addressing something you perceive to be wrong, don’t criticize. Without suggesting solutions, criticism, instead of showing the way forward, stagnates or even recedes progress.
  4. Constructive criticism must be confidential. This is mainly applicable to interpersonal relationships. You don’t criticize a friend, relative or boss and go on announcing to others what the subject of criticism was. It’s a sign of immaturity to spread negativity about another person, especially if the issue is not a matter of public concern.
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American politician Frank Clark (1860 – 1936) was right when he said that “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”

Criticism can be an effective tool for building people up if it is employed constructively. If you are the kind of person who finds it difficult to express disapproval because you want to stay away from either embarrassing or offending others, I am offering you another perspective. Criticism may cause embarrassment or offense but if you do it with fairness, empathy, solution-mindedness and confidentiality, you will be able to avoid or mitigate the extent of embarrassment or offense. Just note that your constructive criticism could make a difference in someone’s life.

If you are in the habit of criticizing people with the intention of making them feel wrong, angry or sad, then you must reconsider and turn around. Be fair. Be empathetic. Criticize with kindness. Criticize to make people better. Criticize with solutions and do it humbly.

Founder of Mary Kay cosmetics, Mary Kay Ash advises that to criticize constructively, “Sandwich every bit of criticism with two layers of praise.”

If you resent being criticized, loosen up a bit. Open up to criticism that could build you up and make you a better person. There is no way to grow or improve without taking on board the inputs of others. People who cannot handle constructive criticism give out mediocre results.

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In the words of philosopher Elbert Hubbard, “The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.” Can you endure constructive criticism?

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