Once in a while, we may find ourselves critical of other people.
Although being critical has its benefits, more often it brings adverse effects.
Hence we asked 14 experts to share tips on how to stop being critical of others.
Dr. Margaret Paul
Relationship Expert | Co-Creator, InnerBonding®
Learn to define your own self-worth intrinsically
Often, when we are being critical of others, we are projecting onto others the judgments that we are leveling at ourselves.
Critical people tend to judge themselves and others on outer things – looks, money, weight, job, partner, house, car and so on. When you define your own worth by externals, then you may be defining others by externals as well.
The way to stop being critical of others is to learn to define your own self-worth intrinsically, which means that you learn to see the beautiful intrinsic qualities of your true self – your caring, compassion, empathy, kindness, generosity, creativity, playfulness, sensitivity and so on.
When you are able to see and love and value your own true self – your essence – you will naturally be able to see and value the essence of others. Instead of just focusing on the externals, you will be able to connect with who they are within.
When you are no longer judging and criticizing yourself, you will stop criticizing others.
Criticism is a form of control. The person criticizing hopes to either change the other person with criticism or make themselves feel one-up by putting someone one-down.
When you learn to define your own worth and give yourself the validation and attention you might be seeking from others, then you can be accepting of others rather than controlling.
Learning to love and value yourself is the key to stopping being critical of others.
James I. Millhouse, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist | Author, The Parents Manual of Sport Psychology
Understanding your motivation is the first step
It is important to listen to feedback that you are critical of others because many people who are critical of others do not think they are being that way. If you get feedback that you are critical of others you need to take it seriously due to the potential damage to yourself and others.
If others feel you are critical they may shut you out and feel negative feelings toward you. If they emotionally shut out your message then, even if it could be useful, the value in your message may not get heard. The problem often gets out of hand where people might feel pressured or judged, leading to an undesirable relationship.
People are critical of others for different reasons and it may be valuable to you to understand your motivation behind the behaviors seen as critical of others.
Some people are critical of others as a way to exert dominance, which creates resentment and communication problems. Other people are critical of others because they are critical of themselves and think this is the best way to be, so it gets generalized to others.
However, the largest group of people are critical of others because they think they are being helpful.
So understanding your motivation is the first step. If it is to be helpful then a good way to start the communication is to ask if the other person would like some feedback or suggestions.
You must not tell them what they ‘should‘ do because that can easily foster resentment. If they are open to some information then sharing what you see as the behaviors and consequences that result may be a good way to start the conversation.
Essentially you are giving them your perception of their activity and the result, but you must avoid resentment. There are rules for giving and receiving feedback that can be a guide to upgrading your ability to communicate your thoughts more effectively.
Psychotherapist | Speaker | Writer | International Retreat Leader
Assume everyone is doing the best they can
Stop being critical of yourself. Most judgment and criticism come from feeling susceptible to judgment ourselves.
If we feel insecure or self-conscious around a specific issue (weight, finances, parenting ability, anything) then sometimes we search hard to find someone who looks like they’re doing it worse and we highlight their shortcomings or limitations in that area to make ourselves feel better. The problem is, it never makes us feel better!
We can also reduce the criticism and judgment of others by assuming everyone is doing the best they can.
If we approach situations from that perspective then we don’t criticize them for not meeting our expectations. Instead, we assume the best in others in a compassionate way. We cannot possibly extend compassion or kindness to others though if we are cruel and harsh on ourselves.
Self-care, self-love, and self-compassion are an important part of learning how to extend kindness and compassion to others.
Counselor | Clinical Hypnotherapist | Holistic Health Coach
Perspective shifts that can help us observe our critical thoughts and words
In my work with my clients (and in my work on myself), I have three perspective shifts that can help us observe our critical thoughts and words:
Our judgment is really a reflection of ourselves
As the old saying goes, when we judge others we have “one finger pointing at the other person, three fingers pointing back at us.”
This saying helps us reflect on the fact that whenever we’re judging or criticizing someone, in all likelihood we, ourselves are guilty of that same fault or flaw in some way. So the question to ask ourselves is this: How am I guilty of that as well? In what way is my judgment a reflection of me?
Our judgment is really a reflection of our own feelings smallness and vulnerability
When you look closely at judgment or criticism, you realize that the act of criticizing is an attempt to raise ourselves above the other person; to feel that we are better than them, more righteous, more worthy.
Seeking to feel superior only comes from our own smallness, because if we were in profound self-love we would have compassion rather than judgment. So then the question to ask ourselves might be: How am I feeling small that I need to make myself feel superior by judging this person?
We can choose to see through the eyes of love and compassion
This is the PRO level. When we are capable of shifting into a loving stance rather than a critical one, we can look at the same situation with different eyes.
When we do, we may see where the other person’s wounds, fears and vulnerability, and feel compassion for them. Or we might see their beauty, courage, and uniqueness, and respect them for it.
So the question to ask to get to this point of view is this: If I look at this through the eyes of love, what do I see?
Leigh-Ann Larson, M.Ed., LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor | Founder and CEO, Elevate Counseling Services
You need a change in perspective and reframe your thoughts
You can stop being critical of others when you stop “scanning the environment for what is wrong and start scanning the environment for what is right.”
When you live looking for problems, looking for the bad stuff, things that trigger your anger, fear or judgment, you are going to find it. Likewise, if you live your life looking for the things in others that you enjoy, make you laugh, smile or feel good about yourself, you will find these things as well.
When you want to change negativity and judgment, you need a change in perspective and reframe your thoughts about what you are focusing on.
Read related article: The 19 Best Positive Thinking Books
Like a photographer changing the focus on their camera with each changing environment, you need to change your focus with each new relationship that you engage in that triggers the inner critic. Instead of the negative, choose to look for what is good, right and authentic in people. This is the key to living a more peaceful and less critical life.
RMT Certified Coach
Add the phrase “just like me” at the end of your statement
We all do it. I’m famous for getting behind the wheel of my car, getting out on the road, only to start cursing out the person in front of me who is either driving insanely slow, didn’t hit the gas to get through the yellow light, or cut me off. And so I judge. My cursing is filled with a judgment of the driver in front of me. Just like me.
Yes, that’s what I said. Just. Like. Me.
When we judge others, we are holding up a mirror to our own personality. It bothers you because it’s a representation of you.
Have I ever driven insanely slow? I have in the eyes of some.
Have I purposely not hit the gas to get through the yellow light? On occasion.
Have I cut people off in traffic? Yup. I absolutely have.
It’s easy to find fault with others, but it’s not so easy to see those faults in yourself. One of the best ways to recognize these faults is to add the phrase “just like me” at the end of your statement.
When you start to recognize the things you don’t appreciate about yourself, you have created space where you can CHANGE!
You now have a choice to change or accept these behaviors.
I’ve made many changes over the last several years. I’ve recognized behaviors that don’t serve me and I’ve changed them. I’ve also recognized behaviors that I LOVE about me and embraced them! The behaviors I’ve embraced I don’t judge in others. If anything I give them a high five and “good for you!”
Try it today. When you find yourself passing judgment on someone, say to yourself (or out loud) “just like me”. You may feel a little confused but search inside yourself for the same behavior. Once you find it I guarantee you’ll feel enlightened, and you’ve now given yourself the choice to change it or embrace it.
Co-Creator, Art & Alchemy
Being critical of others comes from one word – Judgement. If you are judging others harshly, it usually means you are judging yourself severely.
There are three ways to minimize judgment, and by extension become less critical towards others and yourself:
- Awareness. Be aware of the moments you have judgemental thoughts. Dispel that thought by challenging it. Challenge yourself to look at the situation or person differently. And don’t judge the judgment. Just allow it to be. When you step back and look at the judgment as an idea you have with non-attachment you are able to place it in perspective.
- Be compassionate. What if you find out that the person you are judging had a tragic experience that led them to exhibit the behavior you judged? You don’t have to agree with the behavior. But understanding the potential source can bring out your compassion and temper your judgments.
- Remember what you see is not always the complete story. You don’t know everything. Many times the judgment you are making comes from the fact that you are working with a small percentage of the information. Think about if you had to purchase a house only based on the picture of one window. How many times would you make a bad purchase?
Author | Musician
I took a Dale Carnegie training. Dale Carnegie is the author of books such as “How to Win Friends And Influence People.”
Among the most difficult of his suggestions are the “Three C’s: Don’t Criticize, Condemn or Complain.”
It isn’t so much that you have to pretend that someone else’s faults don’t exist. If someone in your life is causing problems, those problems are real. However, telling them about it may not be the best strategy.
In the first place, criticizing someone changes the relationship into a kind of ultimatum: “Our relationship/friendship/workship is at risk because you are doing this bad thing, and it can only be fixed if you stop.”
Then it’s no longer an interrelationship with balance and finesse, but a cause-and-effect see-saw that relies on them to make the next move based on your negative comment.
The second problem is that criticizing someone effectively reduces your power.
Once you believe that someone else is responsible for fixing your broken relationship, you won’t do anything to fix it yourself. By not criticizing someone, you bring the focus back onto what you can do to improve the relationship and how far that will take you.
Of course, at some point, the other person will have to change if the situation is to be rectified. If you have created a situation in which you are actively working to change what’s been happening, and you come in with suggestions for the other person which they can easily implement, you can bring about the improvements you want without ever having to criticize them at all.
The whole thing isn’t about them anymore, it’s about what the two of you want to do together and how to do it.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Wisdom Within Counseling
In order to stop being overly critical of others, it starts with yourself
When you speak to others, it is a reflection of your inner landscape and the way you talk with yourself. If you beat yourself up emotionally, tell yourself that you aren’t good enough, and are mean to yourself, you will naturally be critical to others too.
Instead, use positive affirmations, such as, “I am doing a great job, I am calm and at peace, I am good enough, I am perfect at this moment.”
By speaking to yourself with compassion, you’ll be less critical of others in time.
Also, have a friend or trusted partner help keep you accountable. If you are being critical, they can let you know in a gentle, kind way, to help you stay focused on your goal.
Emily Sheera Cutler
Certified Practitioner and Trainer of Emotional CPR
Increase your empathy and compassion for those you are inclined to judge
One way that we can be less critical of others is to practice in our daily lives what is known in the mental health field as “trauma-informed care.”
The core tenet of trauma-informed care is to ask not, “What is wrong with you?” but, “What happened to you?”
Trauma-informed care assumes that every person is doing the best they can with the circumstances they’ve been dealt and that however they are behaving is a natural reaction to something going on in their life.
The principles of trauma-informed care don’t just apply to those who have undergone brutal acts of violence or severe loss; they can also be applied to the smaller traumas of daily life – social and romantic rejection, financial hardship, workplace bullying, unemployment, family dynamics, etc.
When you find yourself criticizing someone else, stop and ask yourself, “What might this person be going through that I don’t know about? What might be causing this person to behave in a way that I find strange or rude?” Reflecting on these questions can help increase your empathy and compassion for those you are inclined to judge.
Health and Wellness Expert, Maple Holistics
If you want to be less critical of others, you need to start with being less critical of yourself.
If you practice treating yourself with more encouragement and compassion, you’ll begin to start treating others that way as well.
If you have a criticizing thought, you can say something positive instead. Practicing how you want to behave will train your mind how to think differently.
You can also try to be more empathetic. Before you criticize someone, put yourself in their shoes. There is definitely a reason why they are behaving the way they are, it’s just your job to figure out why.
If you can’t find a reason, just know that everyone has their reasons, whether they’re good or bad doesn’t give you the right to judge them.
One of the first things you learn in journalism is to find out the “5 W’s and 1 H” of any story you write:
If I’m tempted to be critical of someone, I’ll quickly run through these factors in my mind. If I’m missing any of them, it’s usually the “Why” or the “How.” I will then withhold judgment until I find out: “Why” someone may have acted a certain way; or “How” they came to the decision I’m being critical of.
Once things are put into context like this, the criticism melts away. The “5 W’s and 1 H” approach takes a little time to develop, but it is a powerful framework for producing empathy and understanding.
JRNI Certified Life and Business Coach
Criticism happens when we focus on another’s flaws and pass judgment but others aren’t the cause of our unhappiness – we are.
We blame and project outwards onto others because it’s easier than taking responsibility. Instead of being critical, we can turn inwards and kindly ask ourselves, “What am I getting out of criticizing XYZ for this? What’s the feeling at the root of my criticism?”
Sometimes we’re reacting out of fear or jealousy. It takes time and self-awareness, but with practice and grace we can stand above and look at our criticisms without getting lost in our emotions causing them.
Founder | Editor-in-Chief, I AM & CO
The best way to stop being critical of others is to remember that everyone is working with a different set of tools.
These tools include our upbringing, our emotional state, our mental state, major life experiences, and ingrained beliefs. There’s so much variety in what shapes our decisions and that variety are what makes us human.
That variety is also what causes friction between us. But, when we remember that everyone is doing the best they can with what they know it allows us to grant others the same grace and freedom to grow that we want for ourselves.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes a person to be critical of others?
• Low self-esteem: If a person has a low sense of self-worth, they may try to build themselves up by putting others down.
• Jealousy or envy: When someone has feelings of jealousy or envy towards another person, they may try to discredit them by being critical.
• Insecurity: Some people use criticism as a way to deflect attention from their own insecurities.
• Perfectionism: People who have a perfectionist streak may be critical of others who don’t meet their standards.
• Learned behavior: Some people may have grown up in environments where criticism was common, and as a result, they have learned to be critical themselves.
• Past experiences: If they have been hurt or treated unfairly in the past, they may be more likely to be critical of others as a way of protecting themselves.
• A need for control: Some people may be critical of others to try to control them or the situation. They may feel that they need to be in control in order to feel safe and secure.
• Lack of empathy: Finally, some people may simply lack the ability to understand and empathize with others, which can lead them to be critical.
How can I recognize when I am being critical of others?
• You frequently find fault with others.
• You tend to focus on the negative aspects of a person or situation.
• You compare others unfavorably to others.
• You have difficulty accepting others for who they are.
• You often feel frustrated or angry with others.
• You tend to be perfectionistic and expect others to be as well.
How do you know if you’re too critical?
Recognizing when you’re being critical of others requires self-awareness and introspection. Here are a few signs to watch out for:
• Pay attention to your thoughts: If you find yourself focusing on others’ flaws or shortcomings, it’s a sign you’re being critical. Try to catch yourself in these moments and shift your focus to their positive traits.
• Monitor your language: When speaking about others, notice if you’re using negative or judgmental phrases. Words like “always,” “never,” and “should” often indicate a critical mindset.
• Evaluate your emotional state: Criticism often stems from feelings of frustration, disappointment, or envy. Acknowledge these emotions and try to address the root cause.
• Body language: Are you crossing your arms, rolling your eyes, or displaying other dismissive gestures? This could signal that you’re being critical.
What are the negative effects of being critical of others?
• Strained relationships: Constant criticism can push people away, damage trust, and create tension in personal and professional relationships.
• Negative environment: A critical attitude can contribute to a toxic atmosphere, fostering negativity and low morale among those around you.
• Stifled personal growth: When you’re focused on others’ flaws, you may neglect self-improvement and self-awareness, hindering your growth.
• Reduced empathy: Criticizing others can reduce your capacity to empathize and understand their feelings, leading to a disconnection from others.
• Increased stress: Harboring negativity and constantly judging others can lead to increased stress levels and negatively impact your mental health.
What are some common challenges I might face when trying to stop being critical of others?
Overcoming the habit of being critical can be challenging, but recognizing these common obstacles can help:
• Breaking old habits: Changing long-standing behavior patterns can be complicated, as they are often deeply ingrained. Replacing your critical tendencies with more constructive approaches may take time, effort, and patience.
• Emotional triggers: Negative emotions like anger, frustration, or jealousy can prompt criticism. Identifying and addressing these triggers will help in breaking the cycle.
• Social conditioning: Society often encourages a critical mindset, valuing competition and comparison. To counteract this, surround yourself with positive influences and role models.
• Fear of vulnerability: Letting go of criticism can make you feel vulnerable, as it requires being open and accepting of others’ imperfections. Embrace vulnerability as a strength and an opportunity for growth.
• Accepting imperfection: To stop being critical, you must accept that nobody is perfect, including yourself. This means letting go of unrealistic expectations and embracing the idea that everyone has their own unique strengths and weaknesses.
• Effective communication: Developing positive communication skills can be challenging, as it involves learning how to express yourself assertively without hurting others’ feelings. This may require practice, patience, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.
How can I differentiate between being critical and offering constructive criticism?
Differentiating between being critical and offering constructive criticism lies in your approach and intent. Here are some key factors to consider:
• Intent: Constructive criticism aims to help the recipient grow and improve while being critical might focus on highlighting their shortcomings without offering support.
• Tone: Constructive criticism is delivered in a supportive and respectful manner, whereas a critical tone can be harsh, dismissive, or belittling.
• Specificity: Constructive feedback is specific and focuses on the issue at hand, while criticism might be general and unhelpful.
• Balance: Constructive criticism acknowledges both the positives and the areas needing improvement while being critical often focuses solely on the negatives.
• Solutions: Constructive feedback provides actionable suggestions to help the recipient improve, whereas criticism might not offer any practical guidance.
How can I learn to give constructive feedback instead of being critical?
Learning to give constructive feedback is an essential skill that can greatly enhance your personal and professional relationships. To develop this ability, follow these steps:
• Focus on the situation, not the person: When giving feedback, concentrate on the specific behavior or action that needs improvement rather than making it personal. This helps the recipient understand that you’re addressing the issue, not attacking them.
• Be specific and clear: Clearly explain what needs improvement and why. Avoid vague statements that can lead to confusion. Providing clear examples will help the recipient better understand your feedback and make the necessary changes.
• Use “I” statements: Frame your feedback using “I” statements to express your perspective, rather than “you” statements that might come across as accusatory. This approach helps create a more collaborative atmosphere.
• Balance positive and negative: Begin with positive feedback to highlight what the person has done well. This sets a positive tone and makes it easier for them to accept the areas where they need improvement.
• Offer solutions: Don’t just point out the issue; provide practical suggestions for improvement. This shows your commitment to helping the recipient grow and improve.
• Time it right: Choose an appropriate time and setting for providing feedback. Ensure that the recipient is open to receiving feedback and that the environment is conducive to a constructive conversation.
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