Does criticizing help in changing people?


Reading time: 2:30 mins

Or is it just killing your career?

Dale Carnegie, the 20th-century pioneer of “people skills” has an answer for that.

He spent his life researching these topics both theoretically and practically.

He organized psychologists’ findings and dug up all the text you can find on how the great leaders of history handled people.
What does “all the text” mean? With his team, they dug through 100 biographies of Theodore Roosevelt alone.

On the practical side. He was giving seminars all the time. He encouraged the attendees to try the theories, and report back.

Doing these for decades, thousands of people helped him refine what is working and what is not.

It was the first “laboratory on human relationships”.
Dale Carnegie
Dale Carnegie

He has a definite answer to the question above.
No, it is not helping, and yes it is killing your career. Actually, not just your career.

It is strange. We learn how to do advanced math, see how our bodies and the universe work, yet we are not taught how to treat and work with people.

The most important thing that we don’t learn in this field is that:

We are not creatures of logic, but of emotion.

To illustrate how criticism work on us, Carnegie picked some shocking stories with criminals.

The most famous from his list is maybe Al Capone.
Who said about himself:
[blocktext align=”center”]“I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them have a good time and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.”[/blocktext]

And he is not alone.

Inmates in prisons reportedly rationalize why they shouldn’t be there. Even people who committed horrible crimes think of themselves as good people. They strongly believe it.

This extreme reflects clearly how we work.
We don’t blame ourselves for anything!

99% of the time we don’t criticize or blame ourselves for anything no matter how wrong we are.

And Carnegie says this is why criticizing and condemning is dangerous:

  • it puts the person in the defensive state – striving to justify himself
  • It wounds a person’s precious pride. His importance. – wishing for “justice”

In effect, it just demoralizes and doesn’t generate change. It does the opposite. It cements the current state and leaves open wounds screaming for revenge.

Will that help you?

Will your colleague work better after this? Will he help you when you ask?

We normally don’t hurt people because we want to, but only because we never learned how to handle people. We don’t have the tools for it. Fortunately, it is learnable with practice.

Wondering if applying these in practice can have any effect?

Hit up Dale Carnegie’s book and read the story of this company owner. He had 314 employees who hated him with all their heart, and vice versa.

He was the public enemy. And employees were his enemies. Complaining, criticizing, and condemning didn’t change this, only made it every time a little bit worse.

Both parties thought the other is doing this because they are evil.
But the fact is the owner just lacked a tool.

Learning how to handle people, he didn’t only change this status quo but turned the 314 enemies into 314 friends.

None of them were “intentionally evil”, but all of them had to learn how we humans work.

To quote, “someone successful” in dealing with people:

I will speak ill of no man, and speak all the good I know of everybody - Benjamin Franklin
I will speak ill of no man, and speak all the good I know of everybody – Benjamin Franklin
Who do you condemn most often on set? Could you use this trick at home too?

We would love to hear your stories in the comments below!

Cover photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

About the author

Peter Varnai
By Peter Varnai

Peter Varnai

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Heey, I'm Peter. Father of 2, filmmaker, solopreneur, and a helper of other solopreneurs and self-employed people. :) Feel free to reach out to me and let's have a virtual coffee. or Sign up for the newletter.