Criticism is toxic to healthy relationships. While it’s okay to express frustration if someone is behaving in a way that hurts you, being overly critical can cause tension in any relationship over time. First, work on changing your own behavior to catch criticism before it begins. From there, find effective ways to communicate if someone bothers you. Lastly, work on educating yourself and challenging any assumptions you have that make you an overly critical person.
Method 1 of 3: Changing Your Behavior Download Article
Think before you speak. Before you dish out criticism, pause and consider whether you really need to say anything at all. If someone did something to get on your nerves, do you really need to point it out? Sometimes, it’s best to let small indiscretions go. Try taking a few deep breaths and leaving the room instead of criticizing.
- It’s best not to criticize someone’s personality. People have very little control over personality quirks. If your friend Jane has a tendency to get caught up in her own interests, it might be best to just smile and nod while she’s going on and on about a new TV show she loves. If this is just something she does, criticizing it will probably not result in the behavior changing.
- Avoid criticism that goes for someone’s personality over his or her actions. For example, it may be a problem that your boyfriend forgets to pay his phone bill on time each month. However, saying something like “Why are you so forgetful?” isn’t terribly productive. It may be best to be quiet for now and later, when you’re calm, talk about finding productive ways to better manage bill payment, such as downloading a phone app that will provide a reminder when it is time to pay the phone bill every month.
Be realistic. Critical people often have very high expectations of those around them. It’s possible your tendency to criticize stems from expecting too much from those around you. If you find yourself consistently annoyed or disappointed with others, it may be a good idea to adjust your expectations.
- Think about the last time you criticized someone. What lead to this criticism? Were your expectations in the situation realistic? For example, say you criticized your girlfriend for not answering your texts quickly enough when she was out with friends. You told her this made you feel uncared for and that she should have answered right away.
- Pause and examine these expectations. Can you really expect your girlfriend to be on her phone when she’s socializing? Isn’t your girlfriend entitled to a social life outside of your relationship? You have probably occasionally missed texts or returned them late if you were busy. In this case, maybe you could adjust your expectations. It may not be reasonable to expect a text returned immediately if you know your girlfriend is hanging out with other people.
Depersonalize other people’s actions. Oftentimes, critical people have a tendency to personalize events that occur around them. This can bleed out into personalizing the actions of others. If someone gets on your nerves or makes your life difficult, you may feel the urge to criticize that person. However, remember other people have their own separate lives and struggles. If someone did something to bother you, the majority of the time their actions were not directed at you.
- For example, say you have a friend who routinely cancels plans. You may take this as an act of disrespect and feel compelled to criticize that person for not valuing your relationship. However, realistically your friend’s actions are probably not personal.
- Look at the situation from an outside perspective. Is your friend very busy? Is she just generally a flaky person? Is your friend more introverted than others? A variety of factors may make a person cancel plans often. Chances are, it isn’t about you personally. Criticizing may add more stress to someone whose life is already stressful.
Separate the individual from their actions. Critical people are often guilty of filtering. This means you only focus on the negative aspects of a situation or a person, failing to see good qualities alongside negative ones. This may lead to your criticizing others. If you find yourself making assumptions about a person’s character, stop yourself. Try to separate a frustrating action from the person doing the action. We all behave poorly sometimes, but a single action is not a reflection of character.
- If you see someone cut in line, do you immediately think that person is rude? If so, stop for a moment and reconsider. Maybe that person is in a hurry. Maybe he has a lot on his mind, and he did not realize he cut. You can be frustrated by the action. Getting cut in line is annoying. However, try not to judge a stranger’s character based on the action.
- If you work on separating the person from the action, you may naturally want to criticize less. As you come to realize you cannot judge a person’s character based on a single choice or decision, you will be unable to call someone out for being rude or disrespectful.
Focus on positives. Oftentimes, being critical results from how you’re choosing to see a situation. Everyone has flaws and imperfections. However, the vast majority of people have good qualities that outweigh these flaws. Try to focus on a person’s positive qualities over their negative ones.
- Having a positive attitude can change the way you react to stress. Negative emotions activate the amygdala, which is a major trigger of feelings of stress an anxiety. If you’re feeling keyed up yourself, this can lead to negative interactions with others. Working on developing a positive attitude can help you stop criticizing others.
- Believe everyone has some natural goodness in them. While you may be skeptical of this fact, try giving everyone the benefit of the doubt in this regard. Go out of the way to look for people doing good in the world. Focus on the person in the supermarket who told the cashier to have a nice day. Pay attention to the coworker who always smiles at you on your way to your desk.
- Oftentimes, people’s flaws actually stem from other, positive qualities. For example, your boyfriend may take a long time to complete basic household tasks. This could be because he’s more conscientious than others. Maybe he spends an extra 20 minutes doing the dishes because he makes the effort to get them extra clean.
Method 2 of 3: Communicating More Effectively Download Article
Give feedback rather than criticism. As stated, some people have issues that may need addressing. A friend who’s chronically late on bill payments could use some guidance. A co-worker who’s consistently late for meetings may need to work on time management. However, feedback is very different from criticism. When addressing an issue, focus on suggestions you can make to help another person improve. This is more effective than simply criticizing. People tend to respond better to productive statements, offering them feedback and encouragement, over flat-out criticism.
- Let’s return to an earlier example. Your boyfriend always forgets to pay his phone bill on time each month. This leads to unnecessary stress and is starting to affect his credit rating. You may be inclined to say something like, “Why can’t you pay more attention to bills?” or “Why don’t you just remember when it’s due?” This may not be helpful. Your boyfriend already knows he needs to be more conscientious but, for whatever reason, is struggling to do so.
- Instead, provide feedback rooted in praise that works towards a solution. Say something like, “I love that you’re trying to be more responsible. Why don’t we get you a big calendar from the Staples downtown? When you phone bill comes, you can write down when it’s due.” You can also offer to help in any way you can. For example, “I can remind you to write down when the bill’s due each month.”
Ask for what you want directly. Inefficient communication often results in heavy criticism. If you’re not telling someone what you want, that person cannot be expected to know. Make sure to ask for what you want in a direct, respectful manner. This will eliminate the need for criticism down the road.
- Say your boyfriend always forgets to wash utensils after using them. Instead of letting your anger over this pile up, which could result in your criticizing later, address the problem right away.
- Be respectful when addressing the problem. Do not say, “Stop putting dirty forks in the sink. It drives me crazy. Just wash them.” Instead, try something like, “Can you please work on washing your forks after you use them? I notice our utensils pile up a lot.”
Use “I”-statements. Difficult situations do arise in any relationship. If someone hurt your feelings or upset you, this needs to be addressed. Instead of criticizing, express the problem using “I”-statements. “I”-statements are sentences structured in a way to emphasize your personal feelings over external judgement or blame.
- An “I”-statement has three parts. It begins with “I feel,” after which you immediately state your feeling. Then you explain the actions that lead to that feeling. Finally, you explain why you feel the way you do.
- For example, say you’re upset because your boyfriend has been spending the majority of his weekends with his friends. Do not say, “It’s very hurtful that you spend all your time with your friends and don’t invite me. I’m left out all the time.”
- Rephrase the above sentiment using an “I”-statement. Say something like, “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.”
Consider the other party’s perspective. Judgment and criticism go hand-in-hand. If you criticize others too often, you may be shutting out the other person’s point of view. Try to step in another’s person’s shoes before criticizing. Genuinely try to see things from that person’s perspective.
- Think about the criticism you’re about to say. How would you feel to be on the receiving end of that criticism? Even if what you’re saying has some truth, are you phrasing it in a way that will go over well? For example, if your boyfriend is consistently late, you may be inclined to say, “You’re being incredibly disrespectful to me by always showing up late.” Chances are, your boyfriend is not trying to disrespect you and he may feel attacked by criticism phrased in this way. How would you feel to have someone lash out at you like this?
- Also, try to consider outside factors that affect behavior. Say your best friend has been less social lately. She may not be returning your texts quickly or at all. Is there anything going on in her life that affects her behavior? For example, maybe you know she’s stressed at work or school. Maybe she just went through a difficult breakup. This could be affecting her ability or her desire to socialize. Try to understand this and not jump to judgment.
Look for a mutually beneficial solution to problems. Finally, a good way to cut back on criticism is to look for a solution to issues you’re having with others. Criticism should, ideally, be working towards an effective solution to a negative situation. Simply being critical in and of itself is not helpful.
- Tell someone what you want him or her to change. Let’s return to the boyfriend example. Maybe you want your boyfriend to keep better track of time. Tell him ways he can get ready to go faster. Let him know what timeframes you’re comfortable with. For example, maybe you strongly prefer to arrive at events slightly early. Let him know this so he makes an effort to be ready to go a little earlier.
- You should also be willing to compromise. For example, getting to a party 30 minutes before it starts may be a bit much. Maybe you can agree to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early from now on instead.
Method 3 of 3: Moving Forward Download Article
Challenge your assumptions about others. We make assumptions about other people all the time. Making too many assumptions too frequently can result in being overly critical. As you go through your day, challenge yourself when you find yourself being critical.
- Maybe you assume someone who dresses well or wears a lot of make-up is materialistic. That person could actually be insecure. Dressing in a certain way might make that person feel better. Maybe you see someone who didn’t graduate high school as lazy or unmotivated. However, that person could have had extenuating circumstances at home that disrupted his or her studies.
- Remember, everyone makes mistakes. When you see someone slipping up, remember a time when you did not behave or act your best. For example, if you’re judging someone for cutting you off in an intersection, remind yourself of your own past driving mistakes.
Work on yourself. Is there an issue in your own life that you’re taking out on those around you? If you’re unhappy with your job, relationship, social life, or other aspects of yourself, try to address these issues. The stress of a negative attitude can affect your overall health and well-being, leading you to unable to handle stress. This can lead to poor social interactions. If you take steps to be a more positive person, you may be better at interacting with others. You’ll be able to cope with conflict in a more effective manner.
Educate yourself. Many people have hidden disabilities. Before you judge or criticize a person, stop and consider the possibility that person is dealing with an issue you cannot see easily.
- The co-worker who seems rude because she does not make small talk may have social anxiety issues. Your friend who constantly talks about cats may be on the autism spectrum. The student in your algebra class who continually asks the same questions may have a learning disability.
- Spend some time browsing informational websites that discuss hidden disabilities. Before you make an assumption about someone’s character, remind yourself many people struggle with ailments others cannot see.
Seek therapy, if necessary. If you find your criticism stems from your own unhappiness, therapy may be necessary. Conditions like depression, for example, can cause you to have angry outbursts directed at others. Therapy can help you better manage your emotions and be less critical.
- If you feel you need therapy, you can ask for a referral from your regular doctor. You can also find a list of providers through your insurance.
- If you are a college student, you may be entitled to free counseling through your university.