Healthy relationships are poisoned by criticism. While it is acceptable to express frustration if someone is behaving in an unfavourable manner, being overly critical can cause tension in any relationship over time. To begin, work on changing your own behaviour so that you can catch criticism before it starts. Find effective ways to communicate if someone bothers you from there. Finally, work on educating yourself and challenging any assumptions that make you overly critical.
Method 1: Modifying Your Behavior
1. Consider your options before speaking. Before you pass judgement, take a moment to consider whether you really need to say anything at all. Is it really necessary to point out something that has irritated you? It’s sometimes best to overlook minor blunders. Instead of criticising, try taking a few deep breaths and exiting the room.
It is best not to criticise another person’s personality. People have little control over their quirks. If your friend Jane has a habit of getting caught up in her own interests, it might be best to just smile and nod while she waxes lyrical about a new TV show she’s obsessed with. If this is just something she does, criticising it is unlikely to change her behaviour.
Avoid criticism that focuses on a person’s personality rather than his or her actions. For example, it could be an issue if your boyfriend fails to pay his phone bill on time each month. Saying things like, “Why are you so forgetful?” isn’t very productive. It may be best to remain silent for the time being, and then, when you’re calm, discuss finding productive ways to better manage bill payment, such as downloading a phone app that will remind you when it’s time to pay the phone bill every month.
2. Be honest with yourself. Critical people frequently have unrealistic expectations of those around them. It’s possible that your tendency to criticise stems from having unrealistic expectations of those around you. If you consistently find yourself annoyed or disappointed by others, it may be time to adjust your expectations.
Consider the last time you criticised someone. What prompted this criticism? Were your expectations realistic in the situation? Assume you chastised your girlfriend for not responding to your texts quickly enough while she was out with friends. You told her that this made you feel uncared for and that she should have responded immediately.
Take a moment to reflect on these expectations. Can you really expect your girlfriend to be on her phone when she’s out with friends? Isn’t it reasonable to expect your girlfriend to have a social life outside of your relationship? You’ve probably missed a few texts or returned them late if you’ve been busy. In this case, you might want to adjust your expectations. If you know your girlfriend is out with other people, it may not be reasonable to expect a text back right away.
3. Depersonalize the actions of others. Critical people have a tendency to personalise events that happen around them. This can lead to personalising other people’s actions. If someone irritates you or makes your life difficult, you may feel compelled to criticise them. However, keep in mind that other people have their own lives and struggles. The majority of the time, if someone did something that bothered you, their actions were not directed at you.
Assume you have a friend who frequently cancels plans. You may interpret this as disrespect and feel compelled to criticise that person for not appreciating your relationship. However, your friend’s actions are most likely not personal.
Examine the situation from a different angle. Is your friend extremely busy? Is she just a flaky person in general? Is your friend more introverted than the rest of the group? A variety of factors may cause a person to frequently cancel plans. Most likely, it has nothing to do with you. Criticizing may add stress to someone’s already stressful life.
4. Separate the person from their actions. Critical thinkers are frequently guilty of filtering. This means that you only see the negative aspects of a situation or a person, failing to see the positive qualities that exist alongside the negative ones. As a result, you may find yourself criticising others. Stop yourself if you find yourself making assumptions about a person’s character. Separate a frustrating action from the person performing it. We all behave badly at times, but a single action does not reflect our character.
Do you automatically assume that someone who cuts in line is rude? If this is the case, pause for a moment and reconsider. Perhaps that person is in a hurry. Perhaps he had a lot on his mind and didn’t realise he cut. The action can be frustrating. It’s inconvenient to be cut in line. However, avoid judging a stranger’s character based on their actions.
You may naturally want to criticise less if you work on separating the person from the action. You will be unable to call someone out for being rude or disrespectful once you realise you cannot judge a person’s character based on a single choice or decision.
5. Concentrate on the good. Being critical is frequently the result of how you choose to perceive a situation. Everybody has flaws and flaws. However, the vast majority of people have positive characteristics that outweigh their flaws. Focus on a person’s positive qualities rather than their flaws.
A positive attitude can alter how you react to stress. Negative emotions stimulate the amygdala, which is a major source of stress and anxiety. If you’re feeling agitated, it can lead to negative interactions with others. Working on developing a positive attitude can assist you in stopping to criticise others.
Believe that everyone possesses some natural goodness. While you may be sceptical, try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt in this case. Go out of your way to find people who are doing good in the world. Consider the person in the supermarket who said to the cashier, “Have a nice day.” Take note of the coworker who always smiles at you as you walk to your desk.
People’s flaws are frequently the result of other, positive characteristics. Your boyfriend, for example, may take a long time to complete simple household tasks. This could be due to his being more conscientious than others. Perhaps he spends an extra 20 minutes doing the dishes because he wants them to be extra clean.
Method 2: Improved Communication
1. Instead of criticism, provide feedback. As previously stated, some people may have issues that need to be addressed. A friend who is frequently late on bill payments could benefit from some advice. A coworker who is frequently late for meetings may need to improve his or her time management skills. However, feedback is not the same as criticism. When dealing with a problem, concentrate on suggestions you can make to help another person improve. This is more powerful than simply criticising. People are more likely to respond positively to constructive statements that provide feedback and encouragement rather than harsh criticism.
Let’s take a look at an earlier example. Every month, your boyfriend forgets to pay his phone bill on time. This causes him unnecessary stress and is affecting his credit rating. You might think, “Why can’t you pay more attention to bills?” or “Why don’t you just remember when it’s due?” This may not be of assistance. Your boyfriend is already aware that he needs to be more conscientious, but for whatever reason, he is finding it difficult to do so.
Instead, provide positive feedback that leads to a solution. As an example, say, “I admire your efforts to be more responsible. Why don’t we get you a large calendar from the downtown Staples? When your phone bill arrives, make a note of when it is due.” You can also offer to assist in any way that you can. “I can remind you to write down when the bill is due each month,” for example.
2. Directly request what you desire. Ineffective communication is frequently met with harsh criticism. You can’t expect someone to know what you want if you don’t tell them. Make certain that you ask for what you want in a direct and respectful manner. This will eliminate the need for future criticism.
Assume your boyfriend never washes his utensils after using them. Instead of letting your rage over this fester, which may lead to you criticising later, address the issue right away.
When addressing the issue, be respectful. Please do not say, “Stop putting dirty forks in the dishwasher. It drives me insane. Simply wash them.” Rather, try something like, “Could you please work on washing your forks after each use? I’ve noticed that our utensils tend to pile up.”
3. Make use of “I” statements. Difficult situations inevitably arise in any relationship. If someone has hurt or upset you, this must be addressed. Instead of criticising, use “I” statements to express your concerns. “I”-statements are sentences that are structured to emphasise your personal feelings over external judgement or blame.
An “I”-statement is made up of three parts. It starts with “I feel,” and then you express how you feel right away. Then you describe the actions that resulted in that feeling. Finally, you explain why you are feeling this way.
Assume you’re upset because your boyfriend has been spending most of his weekends with his friends. Do not say, “It’s very hurtful that you spend all of your time with your friends and never invite me; I’m always left out.”
Rephrase the preceding sentiment with a “I”-statement. “I feel left out when you go out with your friends and don’t invite me because I feel like you don’t spend any downtime with me,” you could say.
4. Consider the other party’s point of view. Criticism and judgement go hand in hand. If you constantly criticise others, you may be blocking out the other person’s point of view. Before you criticise, try to put yourself in the shoes of another person. Attempt to see things from that person’s point of view.
Consider the criticism you’re about to make. How would you react if you were the target of such criticism? Even if what you’re saying is true, are you saying it in a way that will be well received? For example, if your boyfriend is always late, you may be tempted to say, “You’re being incredibly disrespectful to me by always being late.” Chances are, your boyfriend is not trying to offend you, and criticism phrased in this manner may make him feel attacked. How would you react if someone yelled at you like this?
Also, try to consider external factors that influence behaviour. Assume your best friend has been acting less socially lately. She might not respond to your texts quickly or at all. Is there anything going on in her life that might be influencing her behaviour? For example, you may be aware that she is under stress at work or school. Perhaps she was just going through a difficult breakup. This could be interfering with her ability or desire to socialise. Try to understand this and refrain from passing judgement.
5. Look for a problem-solving solution that benefits both parties. Finally, looking for a solution to problems with others is a good way to reduce criticism. Criticism should, ideally, be aimed at finding a practical solution to a problem. Being critical in and of itself is ineffective.
Tell someone what you want him or her to do differently. Let us go back to the boyfriend example. Perhaps you’d like your boyfriend to keep better track of time. Tell him how he can prepare to go faster. Let him know what timeframes you’re willing to work with. For example, perhaps you prefer to arrive at events a little early. Inform him of this so that he will make an effort to arrive a little earlier.
You should also be willing to make concessions. For example, arriving at a party 30 minutes before it begins may be excessive. Instead, perhaps you can agree to arrive 10 to 15 minutes earlier from now on.
Method 3: Continuing
1. Question your assumptions about others. We constantly make assumptions about other people. Making too many assumptions, too often, can lead to being overly critical. When you find yourself being critical during the course of your day, challenge yourself.
Perhaps you believe that someone who dresses well or puts on a lot of make-up is materialistic. That person could be feeling insecure. Dressing in a particular manner may make that person feel better. Perhaps you consider someone who did not complete high school to be lazy or unmotivated. However, that person’s studies could have been hampered by extenuating circumstances at home.
Keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes. When you see someone stumbling, think back to a time when you did not behave or act your best. For example, if you’re judging someone for cutting you off at an intersection, consider your own past driving errors.
2. Improve yourself. Is there something going on in your life that you’re projecting onto those around you? If you’re dissatisfied with your job, relationship, social life, or other aspects of yourself, try to address them. The stress of a negative attitude can have a negative impact on your overall health and well-being, leaving you unable to deal with stress. As a result, social interactions may suffer. You may be better at interacting with others if you take steps to become a more positive person. You’ll be able to deal with conflict more effectively.
3. Learn more about yourself. Many people suffer from unnoticed disabilities. Before you judge or criticise someone, pause and consider the possibility that they are dealing with an issue that you are not aware of.
The coworker who appears rude because she does not make small talk may be suffering from social anxiety. Your friend who is always talking about cats could be autistic. The student in your algebra class who asks the same questions over and over may have a learning disability.
Spend some time looking through informational websites about hidden disabilities. Before you make assumptions about someone’s character, keep in mind that many people suffer from ailments that others cannot see.
4. If necessary, seek therapy. If you discover that your criticism stems from your own unhappiness, therapy may be required. Conditions such as depression, for example, can lead to angry outbursts directed at others. Therapy can help you manage your emotions and be less critical of yourself.
If you believe you require therapy, you can request a referral from your primary care physician. You can also get a list of providers from your insurance company.
If you are a college student, your university may be able to provide you with free counselling.
Creative Commons License