Communicating Effectively: Giving Criticism

Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus


“I don’t understand why she has to be so sensitive. I was simply trying to offer a little constructive criticism, but you’d think I just killed her cat or something. ” Mac’s habit of criticizing others had just cost him another love relationship. Already once divorced, be seemed to have trouble making friends, and his job was going nowhere.


Most people are very sensitive and easily upset when it comes to receiving criticism. The process is a two way street, shared equally between the person being criticized and the critic.

Even when criticism is constructively intended, the receiver may be overly sensitive and respond with feelings of anger, sadness, or guilt, especially when the criticism is delivered in a way that tends to arouse defensiveness such as sending it in the form of a You-message. (See “I-Statements” here.)

When people receive messages that start with You, such as “You didn’t do this,” “You never do that,” “You always do the following,” it is natural for them to feel attacked and take a defensive or even a retaliative position.

Fortunately, there are two excellent methods for giving constructive criticism that are unlikely to trigger bad feelings. The first is to

• request a specific change in the future instead of pointing out something negative in the present.

Instead of saying “You left the hall light on again,” try saying, “In the future, please remember to turn off the hall light.” Instead of, “I wish you’d stop wasting all of our money!” say, “In future, let’s discuss our spending plans.”

The second technique of constructive criticism is called the “sandwich method”:

• Sandwich the meat of a criticism between two positive comments.

Instead of saying “You did a lousy job writing this report,” using the sandwich method one could say “You did a great job on the introduction, but the middle section and conclusion seem a little weak. With a bit more work, I’m sure you can tighten it up into a really good report.”

Giving criticism is a skill that, like all skills, can be mastered through learning and practice. It is often most helpful to request a specific change in the future instead of stressing something negative at present. “In the future, please remember to put your dishes in the dishwasher instead of stacking them in the sink.” Requests go a much longer way toward achieving cooperation than snide remarks, put-downs and negative declarations.

It’s also important to

• decide if a criticism is really necessary before you offer it.

Will the person being criticized really benefit from your comments? In Mac’s case, he might be better off keeping his criticisms to himself. People are less likely to pay attention to criticism from someone who is a constant critic.


Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on

Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus and Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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1 comment for “Communicating Effectively: Giving Criticism

  1. Anonymous
    August 4, 2011 at 8:14 am

    Liked this

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