Critiquing vs. Complaining

How do the different sentences below feel as you read them?

You are always late coming home from work. It is like you don’t even care about all the things I have to do to manage the house.


When you come home later than what you originally said, it makes me feel overwhelmed and lonely.

My co-worker is so lazy I have to continually double-check their work before we turn it into our Supervisor because there are so many errors.


The projects I am receiving from my coworker continually have errors and need to be fixed. I have set a meeting with them tomorrow to let them know I am tired of having to manage their work too and request that they look closer at their projects before sending them my way.

In both cases, there were legitimate issues that needed to be addressed. But in the first iteration of criticism we can be assumptive of someone else’s character which ultimately leads to the other person beginning with a defensive posture and no real resolution can come from that destructive conversation. While, the second responses are genuine complaints about a person’s behavior using a specific instance without an attack, emotion or judgment.

How can we be aware and pivot from a critique to a complaint?

Focus on the problem, not the person

If you view the other person as the enemy, you’ve already lost. See them as your co-collaborator in finding a solution. Focus on the issue at hand and not on what you may view as their character defaults or flaws.

Take a minute to calm down if needed

If possible, don’t go into a conversation when you are highly emotional or triggered. Take a step back to calm yourself and view the situation rationally. When you are in the “flight, fight, or freeze” mentality it is hard to see things clearly.

Ask simply for what you need

Try using “I” statements as opposed to “You” statements. A simple pivot from “You are selfish when you leave your clothes on the ground” to “I feel overwhelmed by the clutter of the house when your clothes are left on the ground” can immediately lower someone else’s defenses and lay a better foundation for dialogue.

This mindset shift can take time to adjust to, especially if we are already ingrained with critique or have been brought up in a household where criticism was common. Take it one step at a time as you work to modify your wording and calm your emotions when in conflict, you will find that over time it can make a world of differences in your relationships