Constructive criticism and manipulative criticism

In private as well as at work, sooner or later we have to tell others that something is bothering us. We often hold back what we want to say and then break out, with inevitable damage to the relationship. Or instead of communicating directly, we limit ourselves to making ironic remarks. And when we are criticized, instead of paying attention, sometimes we do not even allow the other to conclude the discussion and the various attempts at critical confrontation often degenerate into strong quarrels.

On the other hand, criticism, when conveyed in such a way as not to diminish the other as a person, when it does not communicate contempt and hostility, when it is correctly motivated and offers alternatives, is an extremely useful form of assertive communication. From an assertive point of view, the criticisms we address to our environment must tend to decrease tensions, that is, they must make the situation evolve in a realistic and satisfactory way for both parties.

The management of criticism is a situation in which implementing assertive communication is particularly difficult. Indeed, the criticisms are difficult to accept. Receiving a criticism and managing it in the best possible way can be a test in many social situations: those who react aggressively can offer an image of themselves as insecure and immature and those who, in the face of criticism, exceed in passive and self-blaming behaviors, certainly does not get out of the situation well.

A criticism should be able to change a situation in the best possible way, fostering collaboration and promoting knowledge of the other’s point of view on the way of acting of those in front of us.

The criticism should be done in such a way as not to offend the person, avoiding to bury the interlocutor by creating unjust feelings of guilt and must not take away the possibility of an answer. In our culture we are used to thinking that criticizing people, even in a punitive way, contributes to their growth. A person who binds his self-esteem to the approval shown by colleagues, friends and family, have a strong discomfort in the face of criticism. The negative emotions experienced in those situations can be of such strength and pervasiveness, as to put the person in serious difficulty in reflecting and acting.

We can therefore distinguish criticism into constructive, aggressive and manipulative.

Constructive or assertive criticism indicates in a positive, useful and effective way what is wrong. They are motivated, that is, the “why” is explained that specific criticism was addressed. They are expressed in concrete terms and with precise references, aimed at solving difficulties and problems, in order to modify the behavior of the individual in a specific situation. They are aimed at the behavior and not at the person, therefore they put the subject in a position to reflect their way of acting without feeling devalued and offended. They offer alternatives of behavior. They do not define the other as incapable, they do not diminish or disconfirm him.

On the contrary, criticisms are aggressive or manipulative when the more or less explicit intention of attacking the interlocutor prevails. Aggressive criticism is a real expression of violence: those who implement them raise their voices and sometimes situations can arise in which it comes to blows. Finally, manipulative criticism can be described as a form of aggression that acts on the victim from within. They put the person in the position of not having to betray the expectation of the critic. They are generic, totalizing, not justified, referring to the person and not to the behavior; they have as their purpose to exercise control over the behavior of the other but above all over feelings by making one experience a sense of guilt, anxiety, a sense of helplessness and ignorance.

So to make a constructive criticism in an assertive way it is good to state the argument of the criticism and speak in the first person, making explicit the behavior object of the criticism, expressing the discomfort and making the request. It is useful to remember to criticize the behavior and not the person and his value, keeping the attention on the problem and not on the interlocutor, otherwise the criticism becomes aggressive.

To this end, three stages can be identified:

  • description of the event: ” you arrived late“;
  • expression of discomfort: “ I’m worried”;
  • request for change: “ I would like you to notify me of the delay when this happens


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