How to criticize diplomatically

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People who say that they love hearing criticism lies. Of course, criticism should improve you, fix mistakes, and prevent repeating mistakes. However, hearing any kind of criticism does not make you feel good. Furthermore, it is all about your ego. The bigger the ego the less you will accept criticism. If you are dealing with someone with the slightest hint of ego, you need to learn how to criticize diplomatically.

It is not about what you say, it is about how you say it

Two weeks ago, I was criticized for my behavior towards a friend. The reason for this fight was my lack of discipline at the time of the lockdown in Berlin. Instead of working on my blog, my shop, or my website project, friends assumed that I played video games all day long. Somehow my integrity was questioned and I faced a barrage of harsh words. Nothing was true. I played video games, of course, but not to the extent of becoming my only activity during this lockdown.

We fight over chat like premature Highschoolers. After this fight, they and I became silenced. No words or memes were exchanged anymore. I felt slightly sad. Because  I thought we could become great friends. So I asked myself, why do some friendships last longer than others? Am I the reason? Is there a trait that I could change?

I could change my temper. But I would rather not because my temper was born out of my confidence. I am afraid that losing my temper would automatically meaning the disappearance of my confidence as well. It is somehow connected. Both are the fire of passion that makes me run towards my dream. Changing that for some people who cannot criticize diplomatically, is way too much of an investment.

6 Tips: How to criticize diplomatically

advice - how to criticize diplomatically

1. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly

In school, my teachers taught us how to criticize the presentations of our fellow students. Looking back at it, it was a bad attempt. Every criticism should start with something good. After that, we can criticize the presentation. The result was that we have no honest good criticism to say. That good criticism was nothing special, or even worse, it was a lie.

“I like that you have a structure and that you can use the PowerPoint software. But…” I always started with this sentence unregarding who the student was. It is not surprising that with time no one cared about my “good points”. Instead, we are more concentrated on what came after the “But”.

Here is the thing. The word “But” destroys any encouraging words until we hear the word “but”. For example: “You make a beautiful presentation, but your speech was garbage.” If you would hear this sentence you would feel disheartened. You might question the good appraisal. To you, the only purpose of this praise is only to lead to the critical inference of failure. No one likes it.

Exchange “but” with “and”
  • Instead of: “We’re proud of you for raising your grade this term, but if you had worked harder on your algebra, the results would be better.”
  • Change it a bit: “We’re proud of you for raising your grade this term, and by continuing like this, your algebra grade will improve next term.”

Rule No. 1 how to criticize diplomatically: Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly

2. Talk about your own mistake first before criticizing the other person

Three years ago when my little brother entered high school he reached a critical point. At one time he questioned the meaning of getting his high school graduation. This frightened me because he just entered high school and he is already done with school? It worried me a lot. So, I cleared my Saturday plans and went back home to talk to my brother.

We talked and he told me everything that is on his mind. The truth made me realize that we, older brothers, had such a huge impact on our younger siblings. He told me why does he need high school graduation when he saw his older brothers relaxing at home all day when he has to wake up every day to go to school. And this point both of us were unemployed. It was logical at this point to question the meaning of going to school

Realization is the first step

So, I fixed this thinking. Not with hours of talking about the meaning of life nor the traditional Asian talk about superior and prestige by getting a good education, instead, I talked about our misfortune in the life. I dropped out two times and changed my professional field.  All this happened when I turned 23. Because I graduated with a bad mark. So, I told my brother about the importance of having good high school graduation. It is not about you have to, or somebody forces you nor is it about showing you are smart with this graduation. It is about keeping options for sudden turns of career. I told my brother that if he has not had a clear career in his mind he should be able to choose. And this is possible only with high school graduation.

Rule No. 2 how to criticize diplomatically: Talk about your first mistakes first before criticizing the other person

3. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders

When I worked as a waiter, I had an unpleasant manager to work with. She was always nagging and talked to us like dogs. ‘Do this! Do that!” You know these kinds of managers who are never satisfied with your work, tried to fix your mistakes on their own, and give you no praise? She was like them. That was the reason that she was pulled off her position as a manager. No one liked her.

How could my manager handle it differently? Instead of giving direct orders, she should ask questions. Instead of giving me the order to clean the menus, she could ask: “Hey, Thien. Did you cleaned the menus, yet?”

This simple question would make me feel more important. Instead of giving me an order which assumes I did not clean the menus, a question would save my pride, would make it easy for me to fix my mistakes, and improves my cooperation towards her. Also, we would more likely accept an order if we had a part in the decision that caused the order to be issued. By giving orders you would not have any of these benefits.

Rule No. 3 how to criticize diplomatically: Ask questions instead of giving direct orders

4. Let the other person save face

People who make mistakes are usually the ones who feel guilty first. And this feeling is the worst when they realize that the cause of these mistakes is their lack of skill or lack of experience. They feel embarrassed and they do not want anyone to see their mistakes. When it is obvious that they make these mistakes, it is counterproductive to bash them for it.

The bigger the ego, the greater the embarrassment. People who have great pride in their work are mostly the ones who will be the most devastated. To criticize without being hated for it, save the other person’s face. Instead of listing every mistake, thank them for their hard work and appreciate their effort so far. Furthermore, list an irrelevant cause for their mistakes like lack of experience. And ask them instead if they know how they did the mistake.

Rule No. 4 how to criticize diplomatically: Let the other save face

5. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement honestly

first job - how to criticize diplomatically

My first job was as a staff in a pizza delivery service. The main tasks consisted of preparing the pizza for delivery and in addition, cleaning the equipment, of course. It was exciting to work outside my parent’s restaurant for the first time. And I am thankful to take this opportunity. I collected my first experience in a work environment. How to deal with my boss, how to deal with colleagues, this experience helped me a lot later on.

But the first day was catastrophic. I was such a shy guy and I made many mistakes. Many of my colleagues saw me as an eyesore. A useless high schooler who cannot work properly. However, my boss put trust in me. He took me aside for one day and taught me properly what to do. After that, I made much fewer mistakes and I became a good member of the kitchen staff.

Every time my boss saw me that I am improving my skills like preparing the dough, he praised me honestly. And this felt damn good. I stayed there for 3 years because his praise was unforgettable.

Rule No. 5 how to criticize diplomatically: Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement honestly

6. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to

Everyone wants to be seen as an outstanding human in society. With this sentence in mind, we can use it to criticize people without being hated for it. Let us assume you are a car-mechanics who works for years for a company. You always did a great job, you are punctual all the time, you always finish your task until the deadline and you are a cheerful person to work with. One day, you fall off after years. Your boss came out of his office to talk with you and said this.

“You have been in this company for years. You have been repairing vehicles to the customer’s satisfaction. We have several compliments about the good work you have done. And yet, you fall off. Your work needs more time to finish and your work has not been up to your standards. Because you have been such an outstanding mechanic in the past, I felt sure you want to know that I am not happy with this situation, and perhaps we could find a solution together.”

Telling someone who does not work or live up to their standard is one of the best methods to criticize. Who does not feel happy that someone thinks of you so highly? Use this to help you out in your life.

Rule No. 6 how to criticize diplomatically: Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.

Summary – How to criticize diplomatically

summary - how to criticize diplomatically

I am not a fan of forcing my opinion or critic on someone. Especially when these people are strangers. But it comes to a point in your life where you have to. Mostly when these people are your friends or family. When it comes to your beloved ones it is necessary to learn how to point out the criticism. With the right techniques I mentioned above, you will make no mistakes by accidentally hurting them. It might be troublesome to follow those advices but it will pay off. Be the people who know how to handle people and it brings you further in your social life.

I also wish my friends who criticize me would follow these rules. By criticizing my life without asking if I want to hear it, they put their egocentric request on me. Now, they are going to pay for their actions. Take my situation as an example of what would happen if you do not know how to criticize.



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