IN DALE CARNEGIE'S BOOK, How to Win Friends and Influence People,
the first principle is, "Don't criticize, condemn or complain."
That seems impossible doesn't it? We need to criticize
sometimes because some people fool themselves about their shortcomings
or simply don't know any better. Living and working with other
people requires you to criticize occasionally.
But almost everyone dislikes criticism
and resents the criticizer. Criticism evokes negative feelings
of tension, resentment, and hurt feelings. And if it is done
poorly, a criticism (and the defensive response people often
make to it) can solidify and fortify the very thing you're trying
to change, making it virtually impossible to change in the future.
This is a tough situation but you can soften
or eliminate many of the dangers of criticizing with a simple
method. It doesn't come naturally (you need to practice the method
to do it well) but it is a way to criticize without creating
hard feelings. It is a way to help people change for the better.
It will allow you to have a more positive impact on the people
you live and work with, and helps you avoid adding more tension
and anxiety to your life.
What seems impossible never criticizing
becomes possible when you change the criticism into a
request before it leaves your mouth. Do not say anything
about a mistake the person made. That's in the past. Do not tell
them they are wrong or need to get their ears cleaned or whatever.
Simply request what you want in the future.
A typical criticism might go something
like this: "You never pay attention. I have told you this
a hundred times! Stop throwing your jacket on the floor. Quit
being such a slob!" That's the way criticisms naturally
occur to us. But it isn't the most effective way to deliver one.
It won't get you the results you want. It destroys feelings
of affection. Changed to a request, it'll sound more like this:
"Please hang up your jacket."
What do you think? If you were on the receiving
end of that, would you have a different experience? Which would
you like better? Yeah, me too. Turn your complaint into a request.
It still isn't the most fun thing to do,
but modifying a criticism into a request takes some of the discomfort
out of it for both of you. And admitting you aren't perfect makes
it even easier to hear. It also improves your own state. It keeps
you from feeling "holier-that-thou."
"But I've already told him several
times," one woman said to me, "I've already done that
and it doesn't work."
"Have you ever tried to change a habit?"
I asked her.
"Of course I have."
"Tell me about a habit you have changed
She thought about it for a few seconds
and said, "I used to bite my fingernails when I was younger."
"That's a good one," I said,
"Now tell me: After you made the decision to stop biting
your fingernails, did your habit disappear immediately?"
"No. But I
"Of course not," I interrupted,
"because habits don't disappear that easily. You probably
tried and failed several times before you finally succeeded."
I was on a roll, so I interrupted the poor
woman again, "Now think about this: You want your husband
to call you when he's going to be late because you don't like
to worry, and you have successfully converted your criticisms
into requests congratulations and good work, by the way
but he still doesn't call you.
"Well, he did the time before last.
But he didn't last night."
"This is how habits are formed,"
I said, practically yelling, "first you decide to change
something. An opportunity to put your decision into practice
comes and goes and you completely forgot your new decision
doesn't occur to you until afterwards. You make up your mind
you'll remember next time, and you fail again. And maybe again
and again. But if you keep trying, one day it will occur
to you in time to apply the new habit. You may miss the next
opportunity or two, but if you keep trying, eventually you can
form a new habit."
"Okay, I get it," she says, "I
need to give him time to form the habit. I guess I can do that."
"It's not going to be that easy,"
I said. "It is not his habit he is trying to change.
It is his habit you are trying to change, and if you want
to be successful, you'll have to take responsibility to remind
him over and over lovingly, patiently, with a full understanding
of how difficult it is to change a habit. If you can do this
and persist, he will change his habit, if he loves you."
"He loves me," she said quietly.
"This is good. I guess I never really thought if it that
way. But I'm pretty sure if I do it like you said, he would change.
He'd do anything for me."
She did do it, and she was right
he changed. She made her criticism into a request and asked it
with affection again and again. She was able to do it because
she didn't criticize or condemn him.
IT WORKS IN BUSINESS TOO
The author of To Thine Own Self Be True, Lewis Andrews,
In the field of management, there is the
intriguing work of Daniel Isenberg, a Harvard Business School
professor who has spent many years studying the qualities which
differentiate a dynamic executive from his less successful contemporaries.
Contrary to the popular stereotype of the high achiever as an
arrogant autocrat, impatiently judging colleagues and insensitive
to the needs of subordinates, Isenberg has found the most successful
senior managers are quite extraordinary in their ability to refrain
from overt criticism of others, often humorously conceding when
they themselves are wrong. They also take a greater than normal
interest in the emotional comfort of their fellow workers and
have a tendency to transform everyday resentments over unexpected
problems into constructive questions about how to improve their
I used to have a natural tendency to be
too blunt when I criticized people. I didn't like to criticise,
so I tried to get it over with as quickly as possible. I knew
it didn't work, but it was a habit. I decided to change it.
Klassy, my wife, occasionally gives keynote
addresses and adult education classes, and one night I was sitting
in on one of her presentations. There are two important facts
about criticizing, and she was explaining them.
The first is that it helps to "sandwich"
a criticism between two positive statements, and the second is
that it works better to ask for what you want in the future rather
than criticize what has already happened. She encapsulated them
in this short phrase: Make em right, make a request, make
I thought to myself, "That's it!"
That's a short, easy-to-remember phrase that says the whole idea.
It even has a nice rhythm to it. I started to repeat the phrase
often, and it became part of my thinking habits it started
coming into my mind by itself.
One night I was writing a note to my son
and I wrote a command and a criticism. Then the thought occurred
to me: Make him right, make a (polite) request, make
him right. I threw away the old note and wrote a new one.
It said the same thing as the old one, but in a different way
a way that would inspire cooperation instead of grudging
compliance and resentment.
A researcher at the University of Washington
and the author of The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening
Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships, John Gottman, PhD,
has found that the difference between a request and a criticism
is crucial to the longevity and happiness of a marriage. Criticism
is about the past, and it's usually an attack of the person.
A request centers on behavior in the future. That little difference
makes a big difference.
As Gottman has discovered, requests for
change are one of the healthiest things to do for a marriage.
Criticism, and the mutual contempt that can evolve out of it,
is the most destructive. People can forget why they ever fell
in love in the first place.
Criticism doesn't usually go anywhere.
"You're so selfish!" When someone says that to you,
what can you do? Become less selfish? What does that even mean?
But how much easier it is to respond to the request: If you're
going to be more than 20 minutes late, please call me and let
me know. When someone says that to you, what can you do?
Well, you can do it, or you can say, "How about later than
30 minutes," or whatever. But the point is, you can do
something about it other than feel bad. And that's what's
important: It minimizes the negativity. It's more efficient.
And it makes it easier to stay in love, and love is what it's
You see, there's no way you're going to
be able to live with someone without disliking some things. No
two people are perfectly compatible. We're all different, and
you put any two of us together for awhile, and some things are
going to start rubbing us wrong. But we can compromise. We can
bargain. We can communicate, and by doing so, we can minimize
the unhappiness and maximize the pleasure. Fun stuff is almost
always more fun when someone you love is with you.
THE "VENTING" THEORY
In a study by Aron Siegman, PhD, compared
students describing an incident that made them mad. When they
were allowed to freely express themselves, their heart rate and
blood pressure went up sharply. But when they deliberately spoke
in a calm voice while they told about an incident that made them
mad, their heart rate and blood pressure remained normal. This
is one of many studies that show how expressions of anger keep
you angry or make you angrier.
But you don't need to read the research
just experiment for yourself. Next time you're angry,
express it. The time after that, don't express your feelings
of anger, but instead, make a request, calmly, without any show
of anger if you can manage it.
Go back and forth like that, trying one
and then the other, and you will discover, perhaps to your astonishment,
that expressing your anger only makes you angrier.
Anger is a feeling of strongly wanting
something to change. Don't express anger; make a request. Produce
a change. Your anger will evaporate. It isn't something that
you "bottle up." It doesn't accumulate and need to
be "vented." Those are old wives tales. Their falsity
has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. What ends the feeling
of anger is efficacy the actual accomplishment of some
change, either of another person, of a condition, or of yourself.
Producing a change. That's what ends anger.
If you throw a fit, and the person does
what you wanted them to, you've produced the change you were
after, and so your anger will evaporate. But you've also damaged
your health and your relationship with that person. If you try
requests and they don't work, you could try threats, and if that
doesn't work and nothing else seems to work, go ahead and throw
a fit. But try the other stuff first, and save yourself the wear
and tear on your heart, and I mean literally, not figuratively.
Every time you get angry, adrenaline causes
the heart to race and blood pressure to rise, and this is what
causes damage. Adrenaline-laden blood surging unchecked through
the arteries injures the artery walls, making them more susceptible
to plaque deposits and blood clots, and that's what causes heart
attacks. And it gets worse as you go along. As the plaque deposits
make the arteries narrower, then a reaction of anger makes the
blood vessels constrict even more, making the heart work that
much harder. Hostility more than doubles a person's risk
of developing coronary disease. That's a significant risk factor.
The solution? Don't try to forget about
things that are important. If someone cuts you off on the freeway
or something petty like that, yes, learn how to forget it. But
if someone is doing something that makes you angry, someone you
love or someone at work, it may be appropriate to make a request.
That's what will cure your anger: A direct request for a change.
Over time, you will be more in control of your life, and the
frequency of angering episodes will become less frequent. This
will make your heart and your relationships healthier.
Generally speaking, a negative approach
doesn't work as well as a constructive, positive approach. People
just respond better to positivity than to negativity.
Back in the days of the draft, a young
psychology student was drafted into the Army. One of his jobs
was in the K.P. duty. He was to hand out apricots on the chow
line. Normally, apparently the soldiers don't like Army apricots.
So the psychology student did some experiments.
So as the men came up to his post, he said,
"You don't want apricots, do you?"
Ninety percent said no.
Then he changed it to this: "You do
want some apricots, don't you?"
Close to fifty percent said yes.
Then he tried another one: "One dish
of apricots, or two?"
With this one, ninety percent said
yes fifty percent took one dish and forty percent took
Remember this. Give your requests in a
way that most of the people in your life say YES.
Make em right, make a request,
make em right.