Dont Criticize Condemn Or Complain

The first of the FundamentalTechniquesInHandlingPeople? from DaleCarnegie's book HowToWinFriendsAndInfluencePeople.

I would like to have seen if (or how) Dale Carnegie would have altered his approach had his goal changed from winning friends to shipping a complex software product. I suspect that much of his advice would remain intact, but I wonder what he would have to add. -- DaveSmith

That might be interesting, but he's not around to do so. One must note that most of the people he taught and lectured were salespeople. However his advice applies quite universally. The sources he drew from were old as well, people such as BenjaminFranklin and GeorgeWashington?. Society has changed much, but at their core, people have not.

Anyway, DontCriticize is only one heuristic. There are many others that apply when trying to actually convince somebody to do things differently. Most of them deal with being humble and giving ample opportunity for the other person to save face. Another CriticalStyle, CriticizeBluntly, does not give the other person any opportunity to save face, especially when it is done in front of others. That's why most people would react indignantly and become even more convinced that they are right.

Personally I have found it's easy to criticize and hard to contribute. I attempt to get my critics to contribute and try to contribute rather than criticize. -- ErikMeade

Sometimes you "feel the urge" to criticize, but you don't want to do it antagonistically. One possible solution is ConstructiveCriticism.

If you feel the urge to criticize, ask yourself what you hope to accomplish and the urge will usually go away. If someone has done something and it works, why criticize it? If it doesn't work, how does criticizing it help? Either help resolve the problem or shut up and get out of the way. -- AnonymousDonor 1

If someone gives false advise to others, you just criticize by saying you're wrong, or even your advice sucks and explain why. The good alternative is that the person whose ideas are being criticized will not take it personally, will not perceive critics as antagonistic, and is aware that the importance of CriticalSpirit and the importance of finding out the truth (or the truths when it is the case) in a debate of ideas (polemic if you want) is way more important than his care for his own ego, and fundamentally there's no need for him to save face.

This seems naive. It would be nice if people didn't take criticism personally, but in my experience they do. I believe criticism is most effective when it isn't taken personally. If I want to be effective -- and as a coach, I do -- then it's my responsibility to make sure the critique isn't taken personally. YouCanOnlyControlYourself?. So I make my critique impersonal ("Your idea sucks" vs. "That's a stupid idea"), I avoid harsh language ("That's a stupid idea" vs. "That won't work"), and I EstablishCredibility? ("that won't work" vs. "I tried that, and it didn't work."). -- JimLittle

Hmm... I took my own advice in the paragraph above. Here's how it might have looked if I didn't:

You're naive. People take criticism personally, so your way is stupid. If someone gets angry at your critique, it's your fault. If you were smart, you would make your critique impersonal, avoid harsh language, and EstablishCredibility?. -- JimLittle

"You're naive" is a remark about the speaker, not what they are saying. Also, sometimes people are going to get angry about your point no matter how you say it. I suppose in that situation I could just avoid saying anything at all, but that doesn't sound right.

Well, I don't know why you are shy of calling me naive or even calling my idea stupid (even calling me stupid will not make me react, but it's not effective). You can at least assume I can take my own medicine. OK, let's say you coach in a performance-oriented domain and you need to cultivate CriticalSpirit, because essentially you need it and it is essential for success. You can CriticizeBluntly even if some people will take it personally. Those who take it personally will be taught a lesson on the subject, and considering the fact that they are smart they will understand and become better persons. If you choose to pamper them with workarounds, first you are condescending, second you may meet people that will be bothered by the fact that you choose not to tell them directly whatever it is to be said, and last but not least you will not encourage a CriticalSpirit atmosphere within the team.

Actually, those who are smart might very well decide that they don't have to work for an obnoxious micromanager with no people skills, and leave. There's a vast middle ground between blunt in-your-face criticism and pampering or condescension. Nor are condescension and blunt criticism necessarily opposites. What about a statement like, "I guess that idea is the best you could come up with." The challenge is to promote a CriticalSpirit without making people feel attacked or belittled.

The last thing is very important. There might be a time when a senior member (or several) will propose a solution and a junior member of the team will not be encouraged to criticize for what he perceives as flaws, because he assumes that the senior will take it as a personal offense from a junior, he might not be able to find a better solution on the spot and thus might not apply ConstructiveCriticism, he might not be able to say I tried this before and it didn't work for me. He will likely say the senior must know better, and even if he's wrong why bother to risk my relations with him, and CriticalSpirit is dead and gone forever.

Instead you have a very simple solution as a coach: tell everybody that your style is CriticizeBluntly, that you expect everybody to criticize you and keep criticizing whatever they feel wrong even if they might go wrong with some critics, that no critic is to be taken personally, that anybody can criticize anybody else bluntly and without workarounds, and finally that whoever has a problem with this team atmosphere might leave. You'll see that nobody will want to leave, those who suffer from too much ego will be especially motivated not to leave, because otherwise they will be perceived as losers and their egos might suffer even more. AnonymousDonor 2

I think the level of directness depends on culture more than anything.

In Germany, one might say This is the worst idea I have ever heard! If we do it your way, the company will go bankrupt, we will lose our jobs, and it will all be your fault for suggesting such a stupid idea. We must do it my way to stay in business.

This is roughly equivalent to an American saying That's not a bad idea, but perhaps we should make a few changes.


Ha ha ha ha ha! Definitely the West Coast of America, where I have lived for the past 13+ years. West Coast-ers are sooooo sensitive.

You'll see that nobody will want to leave

This is hard to believe. Can this kind of sweeping claim be justified?

Everybody makes mistakes; critics help you find and correct them.

How do critics accomplish the above?

How does a critic help you to find and correct a mistake? Sometimes you make a mistake and do not realise it. When this happens, it is the critic that makes you see that the mistake exists and allows you to move on to correcting it.

  1. If someone is unaware of the mistake, is it a mistake?

  2. How does the critic help correct the mistakes?

Getting along with people and making a good product are sometimes goals at odds with each other. Egos and politics are often more important than merit in many organizations.

How does getting along with people conflict with making a good product?

It does. For example, I once tried to communicate with my boss that his/her schema was not normalized. He/she seemed to take offense that I would criticize it and did not want to devote a lot of time to discussing it, so I gave up pressing the issue and decided to live with a poorly factored schema.

and their view was...?

I don't know. They did not want to discuss it further.

The above example appears to show the opposite. It shows how not getting along with people conflicts with making a good product.

I don't understand. We don't know if either party consciously "set out" to "not get along". Perhaps the manager thought that reworking the schema was too much effort, or would make it so that he/she had to review and get to know it all over again, making more effort from his/her perspective.

The initial statement said that getting along with people was in conflict with producing a good product and then an example was provided to show this. The example shows two people not getting along, no changes being made, and unwillingness to even discuss the subject further. The example does not support the initial statement and appears to partially contradict it.

Criticizing as a habit is a BlockingBehavior? that prevents rather than contributes toward getting things done.

Criticizing is a simple feedback mechanism. The difficulty is that humans often don't know how to digest such forms of feedback, shooting the messenger instead. Like I said above, getting along and being productive are sometimes at odds. The human ego is a fragile thing. I suspect that social ranking was a highly important natural selection criteria in our past (and perhaps still is). Criticizing is perceived as a direct challenge to ranking much more so than it is simply conveying information. It triggers "wolf-pack" kind of emotions.

If a lower-ranking wolf tries to persuade the rest of the pack to go a different direction than the alpha wolf, it immediately triggers ranking defense mechanisms in mammal brains. The possibility that the alternative path might have better hunting characteristics is then a comparatively minor issue, for the all-important pack hierarchy is being challenged. Loss of mating preference would most likely be more "harmful" to the alpha than any possible benefits of the alternative hunting path. The alpha cannot tell whether it is a rank ploy or simply a path to more food for all, and even if it was the second, the alpha may still risk losing status regardless of the pack being better fed. That is too big a risk to take from the alpha's perspective, so it turns into a perceived challenge.

What exactly is the cause of "blocking"? Is it a good or bad thing?

If a feed back mechanism does not produce the desired result, doesn't that indicate the feed back mechanism is not working? Isn't the above simply reinforcing the idea of Don't Criticize, Condemn, or Complain?

Yes, but are you saying "go with the flow" and leave potentially bad practices in-place and never challenged? This brings institutionalized stupidity at times. Sure, it might keep you employed, but does not necessarily create a better product.

The above simply reiterates that criticism does not cause improvement and may actually hinder it. The easiest way to maintain the status quo is just to criticize it rather than to change it.

I don't understand. One may not always have the power/rank to change stuff.

There is some fundamental concept (or concepts) hinted at by this page I don't understand. My gut wants to agree with the blunt critics. Not among strangers, of course, but if a small group of people all are pulling for the best output, and they give and take advice while disregarding their own and others' egos, then theoretically one could argue (and part of me believes) that they would have a lot of fun and make very fast progress.

But... my eyes tell me that being humble and polite works better. Why do my gut and my eyes tell me different things? Or more to the point, why don't I want to be humble and polite? Or I'll even settle for, how can I get myself to want to be (and enjoy being) humble and polite?

Some people simply feel very uncomfortable to have their intellectual decisions challenged. Geeks tend to like battles of wits and long discussions about how and why, but I find that non-geeks tend to avoid having to explain their thinking process. Often it is because they think that their intuition serves them well, but intuition is hard to articulate regardless of whether it works or not. This tends to frustrate geeks, who do not trust intuition over explicit reasoning. I think this is part of the SuitsVersusTechiesCultureConflict?. Managers and marketers tend to rely much more on intuition.

Wow, thanks - that helps! I certainly like explicit reasoning...

Is this sarcasm? I can't tell.

Sorry. No, it is not sarcasm. And thank you for asking. Your comment genuinely helped me a lot. After reading it, I now have a mental picture of managers/marketers priding themselves in "intuition", "personal ability", "winning", "success", "prevailing", and "getting the job done", while I picture technical people as priding themselves on "objectivity", being able to "figure things out", and getting the "right answer" or "best answer". These new models, though not perfect of course, work better than my old ones.

Is it really true that Geeks like long discussions? I tend to find an awful lot of analytical types very inflexible - they will carry out an initial analysis of a problem and then find it very hard to change that analysis. Perhaps this is because they are the ones who have to make the changes. But then the answer is to make change easier, not to resist it. I tend to find the suits easier to have productive, viewpoint-changing conversations with. Although it's the best default, sweet honeyed reason will not always get the results you would hope for among geeks. Depressingly often, you have to be a strong advocate of your idea, and fight against people who initially will simply refuse to even consider it.

Why fight? Determine who is responsible for doing the work and let them make the decision about how to proceed.

I don't think it is always that easy or practical to draw clear lines. Clearly, your boss or the owner has final say. But if a techie thinks something is important, I think it would be prudent to listen, especially when he/she does not pipe up that often otherwise. Somebody who calls wolf too many times probably is going to get ignored even for stuff they think is important, because they used up their "quota".

If he chooses your approach, then fine. If he chooses another approach and succeeds, that is fine also. If he chooses another approach and runs into difficulties, it is his responsibility to review his initial decision and choose another course of action. When I am responsible for a task, I want the ability to decide how to proceed without arguments from others. In return, I grant others the same right.



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