7 Tips for Healthy Communication – Number Five Avoid Criticism

Here we go with part five of my seven part series about healthy communication. In the last few weeks I have covered using “I” statements , waiting periodsthe importance of eye contact, and setting boundaries. You are welcome to take some time and go read over the past posts, or you can start here! This week is all about how to avoid criticism.

It is easy when we are having tough conversations to fall into criticizing the other people. Sometimes, we aren’t even aware that this is what’s happening. We might think we are giving them constructive feedback, when really we are attacking them. It is important for healthy communication that we talk about problems without blaming or hurting others.

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5. Avoid Criticism

In order to learn how to avoid something, first we have to understand what it is. John Gottman, a close relationship psychologist who specialized in couples, defines criticism as “an attack on the core of the other person’s character”. When we speak this way to someone, they won’t be receptive to what we are saying. Instead they will feel hurt, rejected, demeaned, or defensive.

There is a way to voice complaints or critiques without criticism. You can tell someone how their behavior affects you without attacking their character in the process. In order to communicate in a way that is healthy and effective, evaluate if what you are about to say includes this type of attack. If it does, see if you can change the wording to focus on how it affected you rather than what is wrong with them as a person.

Here is an example of the difference between a healthy complaint and criticism:

Healthy Complaint: “I feel lonely and hurt when I am trying to tell you something I care about and you are playing with your phone.”
Criticism: “You are completely self-obsessed and selfish. You spend all of your time looking at your phone and only care about what is going on with your life rather than listening to me.”

As you can see the first example focuses on how the other person’s behavior makes the first person feel. They are able to point out the harmful behavior without attacking the other person’s character. The second sentence demonstrates what happens when we stray into criticism. The language becomes all or nothing and rooted in blame.

Practice This Skill

  1. When you have a complaint you want to voice allow yourself to think about your wording. Ask yourself, am I focusing on myself or is this rooted in blaming and attacking?
  2. If necessary change the wording so it avoids criticism.
  3. Next, set an expectation with the other person that you will both work to avoid criticism when you speak to one another.
  4. You might ask this person “when you noticing I am criticizing will you gently just say ‘criticism’ and give me a moment to think about how I can change the language and intention?” Likewise, you might ask the other person if it is ok for you to do this with them.

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