A Discussion with Dale Carnegie on Criticism

January 16, 2014 § 1 Comment

A few years ago I used to run a fair bit. It was a fad, I don’t really like running, it’s to much work and you don’t go far enough for the effort you put out. Now cycling, that’s where it’s at! Go for a three hour ride and feel good about riding 50 kilometers! I did learn one of the greatest lessons of my life from running though. It is in fact why I was running so much. I was listening to an audio book called How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I had heard a lot about this book, but it was really when I started reading Warren Buffet’s Biography that I was finally convinced to read it. Mr. Buffet talked about it very highly; he said that he had a difficult time dealing with people, but it was reading this book that changed the way he interacted with them . He talked about how he would spend two weeks of his life following it’s principles to the letter and then the next two weeks doing things the way he had done before. He said the effects were dramatic and he was thoroughly convinced and thus adopted those principles for the rest of his life. Some would say that he has been fairly successful.

After running my way though all 7 CD’s of the audio version I have since picked up every copy I have seen at thrift stores and given them away at a whim. (Other books I’ve done this with is Getting Things Done by David Allen and The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian) My last copy I gave away was by far my favorite copy I’ve had had to date. It was a hard cover from the 50’s and was charming. I it gave to one of the groomsman from my wedding, Dan, he devoured it and has since started rereading it. He talked about applying the principles and how they make life easier and people are more happy to interact with him.

I  hadn’t  listened to it for quite a while and a few days ago I was just gripped by the need to read it again. I have since found a newer copy that I am less fond of but wow it’s kickin’ my ass.

One thing I’ve noticed, is that I have very much incorporated it’s methods into my interactions with people, and now examining my interactions again, it is these principles of interaction that bring me great joy. However, I’m obviously not perfect at it. I think that bares repeating for my owns sake. I am not perfect at it at all, decent… maybe decent, there is room for very serious improvement though.

One of the most humbling things I have learned so far is that I am often aware of when these principles are there to be used and I am selective as to when I apply them. This is an almost embarrassing fact. I’ll be talking to who-ever it is and often register the ‘correct response’ and then decide whether it was how I’d like to actually deal with the situation. This I think is a problem. These principles ought not be selective.  For instance Chapter one: Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain. This does not say choose when is the right time to criticize, condemn, or complain. It says don’t. Now I personally have a little problem with this. I have grown up being called out on things my whole life and I have grown to appreciate it. In high school and university I grew some seriously tough skin and looked for criticism no matter how harsh it was. It was immeasurably helpful to me. But it’s not something, I knew this already, that other people appreciate let alone enjoy. Carnegie says ninety-nine times of a hundred people don’t criticize themselves now matter how wrong they are. If they are then criticized for something they think they haven’t done wrong it puts them on the defensive and thus ends any possibility of good communication.

For me, the criticism was not just being torn apart, it was always an opening. A  theory that I probably heard from someone smarter than myself, is that if you criticize someone, you had better be prepared to actually help that person with the short coming that you are pointing out.  But how does this gel with the far more insightful mind of Carnegie’s rules of just Don’t Criticize? I’m not sure to be honest. But I’d like to try and sort through it.

Many of the situations that Dale Carnegie referred to were between people who didn’t have relationships with each other. It’s easy to see that if you were criticized by someone you didn’t know that you would for sure be setting up a barrier between the two of you from the beginning. Chances are you will have lost that person as a friend for good. The other situation that Carnegie talks about is between a man and a wife. He says that when you have a criticism for you partner, consider your own short fallings first and work on that instead. This has been amazing advice for me, I’m sure it has prevented many fights and unpleasant evenings. The issue I have a problem with usually comes up at some point in the future naturally and gets dealt with in an organic fashion.

There are however a few instances that he leaves out. In a place of learning, such as a university or in a mentorship for instance. I think are area’s that can benefit from criticism. But, if you’ll note, these are also places where help is expected from the one who is more knowledgable than the other. In fact I would find it a disservice if I were the one trying to learn in such a situation, and the smarter people around me did not criticize my misguided ways. I know I am a strange case, but I also know that I am not alone.

Another example is if someone you care deeply about is in a situation that is clearly not to their benefit. It may be worth discussing that situation with that person. We are accountable to our friends and family to some degree of keeping them healthy. It is of course important to know that a person who does not want your criticism or direction is no less deserving of our friendship and love just because they have chosen differently than you yourself would have. But if for some reason you think that that person is making choices that the future them would regret and may have wanted some help from, again, a discussion may be warranted.

I’m afraid I have paid a bit of a disservice, in which I would welcome the criticism, in that I have not defined my terms. I have been using the word with the broad concept of one person pointing out to another person an area in which that person could improve. To say to someone “Wow you are awful at baseball!” would not be considered a criticism but rather an insult. However if you were to say “I think you could improve your fielding” that would be a criticism in this discussion.

I think to say that you should not criticize is too simple. It can be very helpful in the very right situation and can also be extremely damaging in the wrong situations.(I believe there are far more of these) This being said, I know I criticize to much, I do so because I would like it more often and think that everyone else does too. This is just not true.

I’d like to offer a couple of questions. What do you consider criticism and how do you react to it? Is there a situation that you might react more favorably to criticism, if so, from who would it come and how would it be presented? Do you criticize? If so, do you think you should and if not, do you think you should?

As I come to the end of this, I find myself agreeing with Dale Carnegie more and more. Probably, 98% of the time criticism is not the right course of action. When you feel like criticizing someone else, which is for sure more often than we should, take a look at yourself and see what you find. But that 2% of the time, after some serious consideration, criticism in a kind and appropriate fashion, may be the right thing.

But probably not.



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§ One Response to A Discussion with Dale Carnegie on Criticism

  • nigeledward says:

    In art school we would have “crits” once or twice a week. Having a group of 15-20 people discussing your work critically can be very beneficial. The problem I found is that people are afraid to offend others, which leads to praise for the mediocre. This ultimately leads to stunted growth as a creative person.

    I think criticism and complaints can be very beneficial if backed up by alternative suggestions. It’s all in the way you express your criticism I suppose (as you mentioned in the baseball example).

    I should also note that this topic immediately triggered a youtube search for “fry laurie critics”…


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