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  • Writer's pictureArwen Rasmussen

Getting Past a Critical Mindset

By Carl A. Trapani, MA, MS, LPC; Chippewa Manor Campus Chaplain

There’s an old saying that goes, “those who can, do. Those who can't, criticize.” In other words, it’s much easier to see and comment on what’s wrong with an idea than it is to come up with a solution.

Criticism is the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. All of us have found ourselves facing criticism. It’s usually not a pleasant experience. But despite the fact that we don’t enjoy being criticized – most of us still will engage in being critical! And that can create some real issues in our relationships.

Author Steven Stosny, Ph.D. suggests that criticism can easily become a habit and infect our attitudes. In an article titled ”What’s Wrong with Criticism, published in Psychology Today, he makes the case that criticism usually takes the form of destructive force. It only tears down, without offering anything but negativity.

“People often delude themselves into thinking that they are merely giving others helpful feedback,” Stosny said. “But criticism can be to your relationships what smoking is to your health.”

Criticism doesn’t offer solutions – it only questions and second guesses in a negative way. Over time, that can do major damage to your credibility. It undermines trust and your ability to communicate and engage in positive ways with others around you.

As we forge ahead into a new year here are a few ideas to help avoid falling into the traps of a critical mindset.

First and foremost, try to refocus your attention on noticing positives first! What was done right. What do you like, admire, respect or appreciate about why or how something was considered. If we refocus our attention on what’s good, our scrutiny is more likely to be taken with more appreciation and seem much less judgmental.

Second, try to rephrase a criticism into a suggestion, or offer another solution with cause. Instead of insults and put-downs that can be inflammatory, try words that build up or provide empathy. We all make mistakes. Let’s help each other learn from them and do better rather than always looking to assign blame. Challenge yourself to say twice as many positive things to people than negative or critical things.

Third, ask instead of telling. By approaching a situation with a question, you are likely to learn more about the “why” behind other’s decisions. This will help us understand mindset and intent and allow us to have better insight into suggestions as we move forward. Be careful when asking questions that you avoid sounding patronizing. You don’t want to belittle someone – you are looking for understanding – not an opportunity to beat them up for poor decisions.

Finally, we are more prone to be critical of others when we’re not happy with ourselves. So, look in the mirror before you criticize others. Work harder at being a better person. See if you can make improvements by applying the three previous steps to yourself. It’s amazing to see how much better our relationships can be when we focus first on our own inadequacies – rather than looking to make ourselves feel better by judging others.

The words of Dale Carnegie offer us all some great advice.

"Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn--and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving."

Carl Trapani, MA, MS, LPC serves as campus Chaplain at Chippewa Manor. He has more than 50 years of pastoral service and professional counseling experience. For more information please call (715) 723-4437 or email him at

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