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How Do I Criticize Without Being a Nagging Harpy?
Shore up goodwill. Your positive comments should outnumber the negative ones by a healthy margin. Don't expect people to value your criticism unless you've first surrounded them with love and respect.

Strike while the iron is cold. All criticism should be offered with kindness, not anger.

Ask for a specific behavioral change. Your loved one is less likely to respond defensively if you say, "Please call me when you're going to be more than 15 minutes late" instead of "I can't rely on you."

Keep it short, and don't exaggerate. Stick to three sentences or fewer, and don't tell your sister she's done something "a million times" when it's really three occasions. She'll only want to correct your distortion—and won't hear anything else you say.

Psychologist Harriet Lerner, PhD, is the author of Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up.

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