How to Criticize – and Not Be Hated for It

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Charles Schwab was passing through one of his steel mills one day at noon when he came across some of his employees smoking. Immediately above their heads was a sign which said “No smoking.” Did Schwab point to the sign and say: “Can’t you read?” Oh, no, not Schwab. He walked over to the men, handed each one a cigar, and said: “I’ll appreciate it, boys, if you will smoke these on the outside.” They knew that he knew that they had broken a rule – and they admired him because he said nothing about it and gave them a little present and made them feel important. Couldn’t keep from loving a man like that, could you?

John Wanamaker used the same technique. Wanamaker used to make a tour of his great store in Philadelphia every day. Once he saw a customer waiting at a counter. No one was paying the slightest attention to her. The sales people? Oh, they were in a huddle at the far end of the counter laughing and talking among themselves. Wanamaker didn’t say a word. Quietly slipping behind the counter, he waited on the woman himself and then handed the purchase to the sales people to be wrapped as he went on his way.

On March 8, 1887, the eloquent Henry Ward Beecher died , or changed worlds, as the Japanese say. The following Sunday, Lyman Abbott was invited to speak in the pulpit left silent by Beecher’s passing. Eager to do his best, he wrote, rewrote, and polished his sermon with the meticulous care of a Flaubert. Then he read it to his wife. It was poor – as most written speeches are. She might have said, if she had had less judgment : “Lyman, that is terrible. That’ll never do. You’ll put people to sleep. It reads like an encyclopaedia. You ought to know better than that after all the years you have been preaching. For heaven’s sake, why don’t you talk like a human being? Why don’t you act natural? You’ll disgrace yourself if you ever read that stuff.”

That’s what she might have said. And, if she had, you know what would have happened. And she knew too. So, she merely remarked that it would make an excellent article for the North American Review. In other words, she praised it and at the same time subtly suggested that it wouldn’t do as a speech. Lyman Abbott saw the point, tore up his carefully prepared manuscript and preached without even using notes.

To change people without giving offence or arousing resentment, Rule 2 is :

CALL ATTENTION TO PEOPLE’S MISTAKES INDIRECTLY.