How to Criticize with Kindness | TechWell

How to Criticize with Kindness

The word criticize has such a negative connotation that it seems like a contradiction in terms to talk about doing it with kindness. If you look up criticize, you find definitions like "to judge unfavorably or harshly."

Judge harshly with kindness? "Give caring feedback" seems more like something you can do with kindness. Still, I was intrigued by philosopher Daniel Dennett's four steps for composing a successful critical commentary.

First, in the presence of the other person, attempt to state the person's position in a manner that's both clear and fair. Doing this may lead the person to acknowledge your careful stating of his position.

Second, state those aspects of the person's position that you agree with. This can take internal fortitude if it's a position you strongly disagree with, but it's an excellent exercise to prevent you from becoming overly biased about your own perspective.

Third, describe anything you learned from the other person. Think how an adversary might react to your saying, "Until I talked to you, I didn't realize that . . ." or "You really opened my eyes when you pointed out . . ."

Then, and only then, offer your own perspective. Clearly, you'll be responding thoughtfully rather than reacting heatedly.

It can take some effort to follow the first three steps before giving the person a piece of your mind. But as Dennett points out, this approach is a sound psychological strategy that will make someone you disagree with more receptive to listening to your perspective. After all, unless you're competing for Blowhard of the Month, your goal is to have the person see the merits of that perspective. And that's not going to happen unless the person is willing to listen to you.

Think how this approach could help minimize conflict at work. In my idealistic view of the application of these four steps, each party to a potential conflict responds to the other using these four steps, resulting in the two parties developing an increased understanding of each other's perspective. They may each still hold to their initial positions, but at least they haven't bitten each other's heads off in the process.

In general, when you're inclined to criticize someone, consider your reasons. If your objective is to be mean-spirited or insulting, consider what that says about you. Instead, try to offer suggestions rather than criticism, with your suggestions focused not on the person, but on the person's actions.

In other words, be kind. No one likes to be criticized, so before you pounce on someone else's ideas or actions, think about how you'd feel about being similarly attacked. Consider how you'd package your criticism if you truly wanted to be kind, generous, and thoughtful.

I have no expectation that people who write nasty, hurtful comments on blog posts will read this article and suddenly become people who comment with kindness. But this article is for the rest of you.

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