“If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive!”
If you want to win friends, don’t criticise them. This is the essence of a book I read recently, How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie (first published in 1937). Despite its age, many people celebrate the book’s suggestions and methods as still being applicable to today’s life, especially when it comes to social interactions. It mainly deals with the challenge of criticising people in a way that doesn’t make the other person want to bite your head off. Admittedly, the piece seems to be mostly directed towards LEADERS and saleswomen. But I think there’s generally useful advice hidden in between such as how to make people like you, how to be a good conversationalist, and how to give non-offensive feedback.
How not to win friends
In Carnegie’s opinion, you should avoid delivering criticism. That doesn’t mean that you have to remain silent, when you truly need to improve someone’s behaviour or work ethics. Carnegie suggests to ask questions about the problem, to propose changes, to point out your own mistakes first, and to give them the opportunity to correct themselves. In short, don’t tell them that they are wrong.
A few years back, I received a less than unsatisfactory mark for a paper I had written. So, I asked my supervisor to explain the problems with my paper. Not only did he refuse to put aside five minutes for me, claiming that he had already written me a letter with his remarks. His feedback, when I read it, was written in such an offensive manner that I scanned it but once. I have never looked at it again, and consequently didn’t learn from my mistakes. I also avoided this teacher from that day forth.
To win friends through useful feedback
If you want to point out mistakes in another’s work, Carnegie advices to start off with the positive. A while ago, a friend and I exchanged the stories we were working on with the goal to give each other useful feedback. In order to encourage my friend to keep on writing, I looked up how to deliver encouraging feedback. What I found out was that it wasn’t my job to tell her how to write her story. Be clear about your goal, and what helps the other person before you criticise. Of course, I read many sources that suggested to begin with the positive as Carnegie does. Still, there was one advice that I found even more useful: If you start with the positive, you can still undermine everything you have said so far by starting the negative section with BUT. Using BUT indicates that everything you said before wasn’t as important as the following part. I took that very seriously. Therefore, instead of telling her what I would do differently, I asked her how one chapter was connected to the rest of the story, why she decided to place one storyline before another, and how I liked one aspect that could be more present. In exchange, she provided me with a couple of useful advices for my own story.
To win friends by keeping your mouth shut
Criticising is a form of art. You have to practise it regularly, and
more often than not it is all about learning to keep your mouth shut, whenever a bad word is knocking at your teeth. In the end, not everyone you meet needs to be criticised by you. So, don’t waste your time being angry about another person’s shortcomings, if you can help it. Of course, I only considered a few aspects of Carnegie’s book, which I found noteworthy. There is an abundance of advice, some of which can be useful in any kind of social interaction, and some of which is more useful in a leader-subordinate-relationship, or when dealing with an angry customer.
What is your method of delivering and handling criticism?