“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” – Douglas Adams

We all make mistakes. What matters most is how we respond to them. But what often stands in the way of this is our not knowing when what we say or do is a problem. That’s why it’s important to have people around us who can help us become more aware of our flaws, ultimately helping us improve.

Of course, this is a very sensitive subject and requires a great deal of tact. A great book outlining the art of critique (among many other things) is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Below are some suggestions that may prove useful.

“A friend can tell you things you don’t want to tell yourself.” – Frances Ward Weller

Make sure you are there to do it in person. And make sure you are assertive and clear without coming across as aggressive, controlling, or insensitive. Focus on the specifics by first mentioning what they are doing well. This can act as a good icebreaker. Another great suggestion is to mention some of your own mistakes before bringing up theirs.

Then you need to talk about what exactly was done wrong, why it’s a problem, and how it makes you feel. Talking about emotions incorporates an element of empathy which some might feel is inappropriate at times. Ultimately, it’ll depend on whether you’re dealing with a personal or professional relationship and a great deal of subjectivity.

“Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves.” – Abraham Lincoln

The main thing is to criticise behaviour and not character. That’s because what we do can easily be corrected whereas who we are goes much deeper. For example, don’t call someone lays or incompetent when they missed a meeting or some other deadline. Making sure they’re prompt in future can be fixed but personal attacks only make things worse.

Then offer specific solutions to fix the problem. Do it gently so they don’t feel any worse and can also feel that the ideas for improvement are their own. Appeal to their sense of worth to make them feel as though they’re more than capable of succeeding at the challenge. Then use encouragement to make the fault seem easy to fix and praise every subsequent improvement, big and small.

“People ask for criticism, but they only want praise.” – W. Somerset Maugham

Receiving criticism from other people is just as crucial for learning. The first step is to distinguish between two types: justified feedback and personal attack.

Justified feedback is valuable. It is something we should actively seek out and be grateful for. Yes, it may be unpleasant, but we need to get over our egos and realise we aren’t as brilliant as we think. Having objective opinions on your performance is a great way to discover faults you may have completely overlooked.

Personal attacks are the type of criticism we should ignore simply because they’re mostly not even about you. People will say and do things just to make themselves feel better. Perhaps they’re dealing with anger, jealously, or other insecurities and simply happened to take it out on you. Don’t ever take it personally! Be happy as long as you know you did your best. It’s the only thing that really matters.

“I am a very fortunate man. Whenever I make a mistake, other people are sure to notice it.” – Confucius

Author's Bio: 

About Me

I have been an active writer for over a decade and published my first book in August 2007. This marked the start of Varsity Blah, a personal development blog that has now received almost 250,000 hits from over 120 countries worldwide. This article is one of almost 100 posts that were compiled into my upcoming book, which was reviewed on Authonomy.com: “This is some very insightful stuff… The way the book is structured, paired with your capabilities of drawing great narrative, leads this on the right path. This cleanses the mind.”

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Graduating from college with distinctions in financial accounting and classical piano has given me a uniquely creative approach to all I do. As a personal development copywriter, I specialise in creating content on improving health, relationships, finances, and career. This includes writing and editing articles, papers, blog posts, web copy, and much more. My professional background in marketing (as well as my extensive experience as one of the first external bloggers for the World Advertising Research Centre) means I can also provide case studies, company profiles, and whitepapers focused on branding, communications, digital media, and market research.

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