Criticize or Critique

negotiation skills in the workplace

Although the words criticize and critique are often used interchangeably, there is a huge difference between the two. Criticism perceives fault… says there is something wrong with an action, a behaviour, a performance.
End of story. Full stop. A critique says: Yes, there is a fault/problem here, and upon reflection, here’s how things could have been handled and been made better.

If we only criticize; if we just stop there; if we just beat ourselves (and/or others) up about what we’ve done or said, then we’re stuck with the parts of ourselves that are less than admirable, that don’t work well, that let us down. But if we critique what we’ve done, we give ourselves the chance of making sense of, and changing our words and deeds. Criticizing – fault-finding – looks like it is taking responsibility, and in a very superficial way it is. But its purpose is to avoid doing the work of reflection and actual change.

Some of us who are critical tend to gloss over what we’ve done so as to put the blame on someone else, while others – those of us who have let the inner critic become all-powerful – dwell on our mistakes and go on self-attack. We sigh heavily; think ‘woe is me’ and convince ourselves we are somehow less than others. We say things to ourselves like: “”Will I ever learn?!” Or worse, “I’ll never get this right. I’m such an idiot.” We suffer over it, we feel dis-empowered, weak, insufficient, sad, angry, etc. After a few hours/days, the feeling dissipates and we move on, but nothing really changes. The pattern endures.

A person who has let their critic become powerful seems like they care, but it’s a front; it has no foundation or support. And it does not lead to improvement. The person who looks at themselves and critiques, however, truly cares. “Hey”, they say to themselves, “I’d better think about what I said or examine why I did what I did. Was I angry, feeling envious/lessened/threatened? Was I overworked/tired/feeling put-upon. And if so, what can I do to remedy any harm I might have caused, and more importantly what do I need to do when those kinds of emotions or situations arise in the future?”

The person who looks at themselves and critiques, however, truly cares.

The person who critiques forces themselves to reflect, consider, and take concrete steps to change. They incorporate self-forgiveness, and look at ways in which to do things differently, and they take action to clean up the mess they might have created. On the heels of those concrete steps follows self-respect.

But, you say, I don’t bemoan and I try not to dwell on my mistakes, but my critic still harps away no matter how small the misstep.

And we say, it will morph into ‘a critique-er’ if you guide it. Because at the very bottom of all that harping is the wise self… the self that’s trying to get you to alter the way you handle your emotions or mistakes. It’s trying to get you to grow and change. So, let the critic have its brief say, then ask those ‘why’ questions and show how to critique.

Many successful athletes, amateur or pro, are excellent critique-ers.

Most weren’t born that way; they’ve had to learn how to do it.

Sure, they might shake their heads, display some anger, or are dejected when they make a mistake or don’t do well. We’ve all seen that. But what we’re seeing is, for the most part, temporary. Because athletes know that if they want to continue being successful, they can’t stop at the criticism. So, they review the footage – usually with a coach; they analyze exactly where things went off the rails, and they look at ‘why’. When that’s done, they come up with specifics – the steps they need to take in order to improve.

People who choose the critiquing route instead of mere criticism are people who don’t want to make the same mistakes again and again. In some cases, they are people who can’t really “afford” to make the same mistakes over and over again.

These are people who want to become the best they can be. Most know that they have to be the kind of people we can look up to and model ourselves after. And though it may not be their conscious intent, perhaps they even want to show us that if we critique rather than criticize ourselves… if we just take an honest look, ask the right questions, and take action to improve, we too, can be the best we can be.

When we criticize ourselves or others, we lessen and demean. When we critique ourselves or others, we stand a chance of becoming the kind of people we’ve always wanted to be.

Criticize or critique. Hmmm….


    1. Thank you Shanta! We really appreciate your positive feedback. We’re glad you found the article useful. We have received positive feedback via email and phone from a number of people about this article. Warm regards, Peter Hiddema on behalf of the Common Outlook team.

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