Etiquette 101: How to Criticise Effectively

Posted: February 14, 2011 in Business-related, Life in general

According to Aristotle,

“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”

Of course, we cannot settle for doing nothing and becoming nothing just to avoid being criticised. Like change, which is permanent; accepting criticism as normal part of the business world will minimise our negative response with critical people.

The following aim to provide some tips on how readers can criticise without losing their business etiquette:


You do not want to be tagged as critic, so before criticising, think if discussing the issue to the staff for example, is worth your time and effort. Brennan & Block say that,

“(I)t is a wise boss who ignores the occasional petty problems that do not affect his employees’ welfare or the company productivity.”

So the next time you hand your subordinate some memo, check your own motives: was it really to help him improve next time and learn from his mistakes? Or was it to show him who’s the boss? 


“Don’t criticise what you don’t understand, son. You never walked in that man’s shoes.” – Elvis Presley

To keep focused on the acts and not the person who committed fault, gathering the facts before you criticise the person will be helpful. You do not want to be misunderstood as someone who jumps into a conclusion easily and who judges people based on his first impression, so do the research. If the facts are hard enough, next step will follow.


Was it better to discuss the problem as soon as possible? Or to discuss it when you are not angry and biased?  Also, knowing when and where to criticise is important. Do you want to discuss it alone with the person or during the meeting? The choice is really up to you but there is always an appropriate time for everything, so decide wisely.


Yes, your associate may have failed to follow your instructions but that does not mean that he deserves to be persecuted. Remember the golden saying,

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you”.

If you were on someone else’s place, would you like to be treated the way you will opt to treat him?


What I like being an assistant to my current boss is that I never felt I was stupid- I may commit mistakes sometimes, but he would say, “It’s OK, everybody commits the same.”

A leader needs not to prove that he is correct while the other is wrong, in fact, he provides support in fixing the breakdown.


Avoid the following:

1. Unnecessary criticism;

2. Demoralising;

3. Hypercriticism or nitpicking* and nagging;

4. Attacking personality not the act; and

5. Forgetting your values

*Minute, trivial, unnecessary, and unjustified criticism or faultfinding.


Brennan, L., & Block, D. (1991). The Complete Book of Business Etiquette: The Essential Guide To Getting Ahead in Business. London: Judy Piatkus Limited.


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