Etiquette of Criticizing Others

Giving constructive criticism can provide a valuable advantage and enhance ideas and performance in anyone’s personal or professional life. However, certain etiquette must be followed to get positive results; otherwise, they can prove destructive.

Some aspects that need our consideration in this regard are mentioned below:

1. Every criticism should begin with the acknowledgment of the good traits of the person we intend to criticize. It will engender confidence and make us stand among the well-wishers of that person.

2. Criticism should be directly communicated to the person we intend to criticize instead of talking to others. Indirect comments may hurt that person’s feelings when they become known and also create unnecessary gossip.

3. Criticism should not be based on hearsay and unfounded information. It should be based on well-investigated facts and concrete data.

4. It is inappropriate to criticize a person for a mistake at the very time he is making it. This often creates a reaction in a person and does not allow him or her to calmly reflect on the substance of the critique.

5. Over-criticism or repetitive criticism should be avoided. More often than not, it proves counter-productive to the very objective we have in mind.

6. Criticism should not be couched in harsh words and foul language. The most substantive criticism loses its impact if it is not conveyed in a polite manner. People shy away from callous words.

7. The timing of criticism is very important. We must find opportune moments when a person’s heart is inclined, and his mind is receptive to critiques.

8. Provide specific and objective criticism based on what needs improvement. Provide specific examples or instances, and frame your criticism in objective terms. Avoid vague or general statements.

9. Focus on behavior and processes, not personality. This ensures criticism is about actions, not the individual. Address specific actions or behaviors rather than making it a personal attack. This helps in separating the behavior from the person.

10. Encourage dialogue and feedback. Open communication fosters a healthy exchange of ideas. Encourage the person to share their perspective, thoughts, or ideas. This two-way dialogue promotes understanding and collaboration.

Remember, the key to constructive criticism is creating an environment where improvement is the goal and the person receiving feedback feels supported rather than attacked.

Following are some ahadith about etiquette in communication that inspire the above points.

1. The Prophet ﷺ taught that the best amongst us are those who have the best manners and character. Sahih al-Bukhari (Book 61, Hadith 68)

2. Allah is gentle and rewards those who are gentle in their actions. Sunan Abi Dawud (Book 43, Hadith 35)

3. The Prophet ﷺ taught that people should not be judged by their reputation and instead should be treated with kindness and respect. Sahih al-Bukhari (Book 78, Hadith 158)

Reference:  “Decorum of Criticizing Others” by Dr. Shehzad Saleem

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