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Expressing what you Think: Constructive Criticism and Destructive Opinions

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There are many ways to skin a cat... some of them piss me off big time.

There are many ways to skin a cat... some of them piss me off big time.

Politely Disagreeing


Expressing an opinion on any matter is a way, one of the many ways, to expose oneself to the world and, for that reason, I think it's worth paying a bit of attention to the way we express what we think. That is especially true when we say out loud that we disagree with something. Opinions that go against the grain are healthy most of the times, for most adults and most topics, but they require respect and consideration to others' opinions. Tolerance, I think it's called.

I don't fully subscribe to the old adage "If you don't have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all." I would, if all that ever came out of someone's mouth was froth, fire and brimstone –in other words, intolerant people may as well shut their mouthtraps as far as I'm concerned, but I believe constructive criticism is worth voicing, the trick is to say nicely (or politely, if you will) something that's not so nice nor easy to say.

I think the way to achieve this is by aiming at improving the perceived deficiency that's bothering you, that is, don't just burst forth with the "issue", instead think about how you can contribute to improve it. This would be the art of saying exactly what you think without creating rejection, or an enemy, in the process. It's all about respect and also tolerance, but I hear it's all the rage to call it "assertiveness" nowadays!

There are two basic rules to pass on constructive criticism: Separate the "issue" from the person, and keep the person emotionally attached. More often than not, criticism ceases to be constructive because instead of focusing on the issue we focus on the person –mostly by generalizing, because we don't have the guts to address the thing that really bothers us. Take a look at this article 4 Ways to Be Assertive Without Being Rude.

At the other end of constructive criticism is plain old criticism or, ultimately, antagonism. I have some peeves about that and I can get into pretty heated debates about them, too. I suppose we all have our peeves about disrespectful and thoughtless commentary, but here's my top list of annoying habits when it comes to expressing opposing opinions.

Ironically, after having unequivocally defended respect and tolerance when it comes to speaking one's mind, I'm going to be quite the uncivilized, intolerant savage to demean certain ways of formulating opinions. So call me a cynic.

How To Express an Opinion and Piss Me Off in the Process

Here it comes... 

1. The NO sayers. It’s easier to judge than to think.

No, no, no!

No, no, no!

This would be people that never voice an opinion unless it's in opposition to someone else's. Likely, that's because they never had a single opinion ... having one would require thinking...  

It annoys me, big time, when someone asks me my opinion on any subject, and I answer in no uncertain terms, like I mean it (oy vey, would that be because I actually mean it?), and just after I'm done they ask me if I'm sure of what I said.  I wonder if it looks like I spoke the first thing that sprang to mind.  I wonder if it looks like I don’t know what I'm talking about.  Never mind what I wonder... In general, I have no problem telling anyone my opinion, but I do have a problem with people that don’t have their own formed but don’t think twice about questioning others’.

2 The PICK-APARTS. It’s easier to destruct than to construct.

Hmmm, what can I tear apart here?

Hmmm, what can I tear apart here?

These are plain smartasses, know-it-all-look-alikes that always seem on the lookout for a flaw in the argument. They aren't interested in the argument, but in finding flaws within.

If someone takes the time to express what they think about something, and they back it up with reasoning (their own, regardless of how true or logic it sounds to the rest of us!), I find it maddening when someone goes and picks the one little, tiny thread of the whole dissertation that seems to part with the general concept, and then proceeds to tear the whole opinion to shreds.

It makes me think these people are actually looking for something, anything, to blurt what they think is The Truth. First of all, why didn't they say so in the first place? And second, do they really think what they say they think, or do they wait until someone with a bit more guts expresses an opinion to help them frame theirs?

Which drives me nicely to my third peeve.

3. The COMMON PLACERS. There's safety in numbers. Being original takes guts.

Muppet opinions

Muppet opinions

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Here's people that resort to common places to pull apart an argument, never using an original though of their own.  I'm not sure they even believe in what they are saying.

The fact that one million people have said something before doesn't make it The Truth. Granted, it's probably valid in some way, because it's difficult that so many people are wrong at the same time, though I could probably find a few examples of it, but anyway, there seem to be individuals that will resort to these used and reused and abused common places because they seem to find reassurance in numbers.  Going with the flow is easier than going against it and, if bad comes to worst, they probably think that having expressed a thought that 1 million others also backed up will make them less prone to comebacks or repercussions.

4. ANGST IS KING. Or is that queen? The conspiracy theory!

The world is out to get me

The world is out to get me

Whatever happened to them fellows that they think the world at large is against them? Whatever makes them think the world cares one way or another?!

I think we all know people that will only, or mostly, express opinions to complain. Pretty much everything they rant (whoops, sorry) opine about is a problem, a mistake, an offense, some wrongdoing of someone or something against them.

Here's a news flash: The world doesn't revolve around you, much less is out there to get you. And guess what? The world doesn't care much one way or the other what you think, if you're sad or happy, if you pay taxes or not. Get real, and stop thinking for a minute that everything that happens in the universe happens to make your life miserable. Maybe the day you voice something other than a protest, the world will repay you in kind and look a bit rosier, a bit warmer. If you only talk trash, well, what else do you expect to get but a lotta trash in return?


Ahem.... Methinks I have been rather destructive, haven't I? Yeah, yeah, like I said, call me a cynic.

© 2008 Elena.


Elena. (author) from Madrid on June 29, 2010:

Hi Niall, I'm not sure whether you're calling me a cynic! Laugh! You may have a point, I can be one, every now and then :-) Thanks for your comment!

Elena. (author) from Madrid on June 23, 2009:

Jewels, it was certainly worth something if it was worth a bout of good sex! :-) Jokes aside, I know what you mean. Expressing oneself is sometimes a lot more "important" than we give it credit, it is in fact the most efficient way to distinguish oneself from the environment and from others and a way for us to become "unique" entities. Oh well, didn't want to get all philosophic, just to say I DO get your point :-)

Jewels from Australia on June 22, 2009:

Borrow away amiga. I went to bed smiling let me tell you.  It's like a boxing ring, life is!  When you don't know how to throw punches right and guard yourself, you end up with a smack in the mouth which is what happened to me a month or so ago.  I felt the feeling as you do and it took me awhile to get back in the ring.  Knowing that I am quite virtuous at heart, I used this personality trait to my advantage and rose above the sordid mess laid before me.  With the golden tongue of Lillith I engaged further and kept to my truth.  Geez it felt good.  I was even emailed by fellow friendly hubbers telling me that my attempts were in vain and getting through to this particular preacher was a fruitless effort.  I felt validated because of the support. I knew the silly man would not budge in attitude, but being able to express myself was worth as much as a good bout of sex on a summer evening at sunset!

Elena. (author) from Madrid on June 22, 2009:

Hey Jewels, howdo! I'm not sure what you mean about "example of how to behave" in forums -- but let me tell you I almost fell of my chair laughing with the "assertive episode", that is such a GREAT way to call a ... errrr.. tantrum! I hope you don't mind my borrowing it! Besos!

Jewels from Australia on June 22, 2009:

Well, you know this hub is being used as an example of how to behave in the forums, don't you? So pleased as I got to read you again. :D I've taken some things onboard here, pity I didn't read it last night - I had another assertive episode on the regligious forum - was character building at least. Made me feel gooooooood!

Elena. (author) from Madrid on March 15, 2009:

Hi Lita!  Not sadly, in my opinion – to answer you question there :-)  I think respecting another's point of view is what counts for fruitful communication in the end, and one learns stuff in that process too.  Sometimes I learn GOOD arguments from others that don't agree with me, and that make me think about the opposing point of view and prepare me and make me investigate about it for the next time the discussion arises.

Criticism per se is quite useless.  I guess it's a wish to hear one's own voice out of a sense of self-importance! :-)

Leta S on March 15, 2009:

Hi, Elena... Thought I'd come visit one of your hubs! I agree with everything you say--especially in regard to one's work life. However, there are some instances where I don't play diplomat--generally on issues of basic human rights which, lol, I feel are self-evident and must not be compromised on any terms.

Sadly (or not?) I don't think I've ever been talked out of my point of view. :) I have sometimes come to respect another's point of view, or understand why they sometimes feel the way I do, but that's all. But then I do my homework on most things, or I withhold an opinion until I feel informed enough to have an something to say, if at all.

I think my biggest pet peeve has to be criticism just to criticize--but you sort of learn to wade through all that (sort of) when you are put yourself through writing workshops and studio critiques, a lot. :)

Elena. (author) from Madrid on March 15, 2009:

Hi Pam! Career diplomat sounds so.... chic!  :-) 

Choosing one's battles is quite smart, AND it's not to be confused with being a coward :-) Like you said, sometimes one just knows it's going to go nowhere, so why pollute the air with badly spent breath.  Those occasions I simply would call "not worth my times", if I were to do a hub on types of conversations! Laugh!

On the opposite side of the spectrum, I fully agree with you, there are times where one can't just stay quiet, because it's like making apology of ignorance and intolerance, and I won't have that thrown in my face and let it go unchallenged.  For example, I won't stay quiet, even if it takes me nowhere, when someone makes a snide remark about gays, or a racist comment or... you get my drift.

Funny thing is that I *rarely* engage on that type of discussion online.  Maybe it's because I think it's already pretty difficult to change anyone's stance on those topics in real life, never mind in the anonymous, "courage inspiring" world of virtual comms.

pgrundy on March 15, 2009:

Elena, this is great stuff! Thank you! You always manage to place positive and calm spin on almost any issue. You definitely could be a career diplomat. :o)

I would add a couple of thoughts. One, choose your battles. So many people think they have to speak up every time they disagree with anything, but so often the best course is to smile and nod, not in agreement so much as in recognition that this isn't anywhere you really want to go because the outcome won't be great. Sometimes disclosure is not wise. For example. I have fairly liberal politics but when I worked at the bank most of the people hired on there were very conservative and many belonged to very extreme right wing Christian sects. They would go on about it A LOT, but piping up against it in that environment was only harmful and disruptive to ME--nothing I would say would ever change their minds, so to me, it seemed not worth it to say it.

On a completely opposite note, sometimes I think we have a moral obligation to speak up no matter what the consequences, but we should think carefully before deciding we've found such an instance. I hate it when people hype every teeny issue to the highest possible emotional volume when really all we are talking about is some minor difference in point of view. It makes talking to other people exhausting and it isn't necessary. Sometimes you just have to agree to disagree and not get your panties all in wad about it, you know? Great hub!

Elena. (author) from Madrid on March 15, 2009:

I like your funny side, Sufi! :) I actually like it when someone talks me out of my point of view, sometimes I may not let my original opinion go gracefully but at the end of the argument I'm rather glad I learned something new, you know what I mean? I for sure know what you mean with the Ouzo! Laugh!

Sufidreamer from Sparti, Greece on March 15, 2009:

Hi Elena.

I disagree with everything that you say and I don't like you very much anyway. When you mentioned No Sayers, you completely destroyed your own argument....

Being a serious Sufi, now - that is a great Hub. Those types of people annoy me too, although it is very easy to become over-aggressive in an argument. Usually when I have been drinking too much Ouzo ;) I am a great believer that debate must be constructive - I had a great argument with Misha recently, and he caused me to make some small adjustments to my world-view. That is a result.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on March 15, 2009:

I gotcha, FP, was just being silly! :-)

Feline Prophet on March 15, 2009:

Hehe, sorry Elena...I meant we end up with a lot more aggravation (in the form of enemies) than we need...or something! :P

Elena. (author) from Madrid on March 14, 2009:

Feline, hello!  Your comment made me smile, makes it sound like we actually need ANY enemies! :-)  I know what you mean, though, I'm just being silly! Thanks for the comment! :-*

Sally -- Don't know that I'm too brilliant, but I do listen, that's for sure! Then again, it's easy when feedback is so well laid out :-)  I'll think about the request, one of the responses is pretty good, maybe I can give it a humorous twist to mine, if I decide to go ahead with it! 

On the corporate world, I am resigned to never find anyone 'roud here that doesn't get indigestion just thinking about it!  Laugh!

Feline Prophet on March 14, 2009:

'Separate the person from the issue' is such good advice Elena. So many of us forget to do that in the heat of the moment and end up making more enemies than we need!

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on March 14, 2009:

Elena, you got my message exactly when you said, "...that'd be constructive criticism!!!!"  You saw that I listened to you (read your words), and knowing my attention was focused on you, you came back with the next thing.  Never once did I say "you should" or "I think it would be good if you..." or "perhaps you could benefit by expanding on this idea" or any of those like messages that would make the issue succumb to the personalities.  How brilliant are you????

If you wanted to do that "brother" Hub, there is a request out there from annemaeve about active listening as well as a couple of responses.  It might be a nice jumping off place for relating this Hub on criticism to a "brother":

Yeah, I know the biz exec world quite well.  Been there, done that, including all the pricey seminars, workshops, and retreats.  I hear you.  I'm enjoying going through your corporate Hubs, but only because you've written them, for in actuality, all that stuff currently gives me a headache. :)

Looking forward very much to seeing what you decide to do next.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on March 14, 2009:

Sally, howdo!  I do think you're adding a though: I focused on talking and expressing one's opinion, but didn't mention the listening part which is equally important –if effective communication is to happen, that is :-)

I'll say, what you mention in your excellent comment is what business execs pay a big buck to be trained on – I should know, I'm one of them biz execs! :-) Your fabulous feedback makes me think maybe I'd maybe need to expand this hub, or do a brother hub on listening!

Thank you, Sally!  I do appreciate intelligent commentary that makes me improve .... that'd be constructive criticism!!!!  Who knew, eh?  Laugh!

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on March 14, 2009:

Great Hub, Elena, and so apropos of things I've been thinking lately regarding why relationships succeed or fail. 

I think at the core of being able to criticize constructively is the willingness to listen actively.  Active listening takes both patience and energy, and I believe I must put these efforts into the challenge before I have the right to voice an opinion. 

Active listening also keeps the other emotionally engaged, because it makes them the center of attention, and who doesn't like to be listened to?

It has been my experience, nine times out of ten, that active listening will bring the other around to understanding my contrasting point of view without becoming offended.

I don't think I'm adding new thoughts here, rather just offering one worthwhile skill to show the respect you mention in your first paragraph.

As usual, you've given me lots of good stuff to think about.  Thumbs up.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on January 08, 2009:

Thank you, Ananta65! I think sometimes stuff needs to be said, but here's the thing, "stuff" isn't the person you're talking to:-) Stuff is, well, just stuff, so yeah, whole-heartedly, separating the issue is key, in my opinion! Thanks for commenting!

Ananta65 on January 08, 2009:

Elena.  says: I don't fully subscribe to the old adage "If you don't have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all."

Personally I have transformed that adage a little. Indeed, sometimes what you have to say is not nice to hear. But if it’s said with the good intention we can all learn from our mistakes) it’s ok. And the first thing to do is to stick to the issue and not attack the person.

Nice hub!

Elena. (author) from Madrid on January 01, 2009:

Thank you, Pam! I appreciate your comment! I did go for humor, although as you well pointed out I do feel rather strongly about this! 

Here's to a wonderful 2009 with the least possible amount of Common Placers and Pick Aparts in your path!  :-)

Pam Roberson from Virginia on January 01, 2009:

You go Elena! I came to check you out, and this hub caught my eye immediately. You didn't let me down at all. I'm impressed. This is a wonderful hub full of truth spoken with tact, feeling, and humor. Common Placers and Pick Aparts get me the most I think. Well said and so well done that there's nothing for me to add! :)

Elena. (author) from Madrid on December 30, 2008:

Thank you, CWB -- I'm reading yours, too, one step at a time. I like your views on economics and the general state of affairs in this world of ours.

ColdWarBaby on December 30, 2008:

I value your viewpoint. As you can see I have been looking at your hubs. I will definitely continue to do so as time allows.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on December 30, 2008:

In truth, the whole topic of occupations is not unlike religion, to me: Whatever works for you is what you'll do good to stick to! :-)

That completely illogical concept that one must aspire to "better" fails to make many people happy precisely because the idea of "better" is not born of self-analysis but based on common place criteria, such as social standing, "be able to buy more stuff", etc.  E.g. supposedly, by general social standards, it is a common place that being a white-collar worker is "superior" to being a blue-collar one.  Now, picture me tapping my foot on the floor and asking "and this is why, exactly"?

I favor self analysis and self awareness in all areas. You may be interested in reading a hub I wrote on motivation.

ColdWarBaby on December 29, 2008:

I've been blue collar almost my entire working life. I did a seven year stretch with a major office supply company in their contract division. Ended up as an administrator/office manager for a sales office in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I think that was the worst seven years of my life. I'll take honest manual labor anytime.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on December 29, 2008:

Thanks, CWB! In a manner of speaking, I already have a career in diplomacy! Corporate land is a diplomacy minefield –opps, not minefield, I mean playground, yes, playground!! :-)

ColdWarBaby on December 29, 2008:

Have you ever considered a career in diplomacy?

Skillfully done.

countrywomen from Washington, USA on December 25, 2008:

Here is Hi 5 from my side too. Yes I will write. So sorry to hear about that. Yes we should all write about our parents who have shaped us into what we are today. I will now be waiting for yours and meanwhile get started on mine :-)

Elena. (author) from Madrid on December 25, 2008:

Yay, CW! Thank you!  Sending a high-five your way!  :-)

Do write a hub on your father, maybe you'll inspire me to write about my own dad –he passed away 15 years ago and I still miss him.  He was a great fellow, just as yours sounds.  Go on! :-)

countrywomen from Washington, USA on December 25, 2008:

Btw now I have included this in my hub and let me know if you like the write up. Yes we should be assertive without being aggressive. Those were great words. I guess the more I remember my father the more I am inclined to write a hub about him.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on December 25, 2008:

Many thanks for your kind words, CW! 

Wise man, your father! :-)  His advice reminds me of an old saying: "Be kind to your friends and even kinder to your enemies. To these, provide a golden bridge so that they can come and go at pleasure.  Your kindness to your enemies demonstrates the size of your courage."

In my opinion, politely disagreeing is a way to be courageous, to stand up for what you believe.

countrywomen from Washington, USA on December 25, 2008:

Elena- This is a great hub and first hub of yours that I am reading. Now I will have to read more of your hubs and will include one amongst these gems that you have written. Yes you are right we can say politely and firmly our opinion. And also we needn't be quiet if we really want to say something. My father who was a successful lawyer before he went on to become Judge once told me "Be nice to people who agree with you and be nicer to people who disagree with you". Because we all can disagree agreeably without hurting anyone as far as possible.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on December 22, 2008:

Thanks for commenting, relica! Lack of competitiveness may be one factor, fear of failure or rejection may be another. Deep down, I think the simple answer to constructive feedback being so scarce is the fact that it's a creative process in itself and, last I heard, creating something is a lot more demanding than picking apart something that someone else created, sooo....

relica from California on December 22, 2008:

Great Hub! Many of us love to write criticism about movies, articles, books, videos, food, etc. But why cant we make constructive criticis? I think that the main reason is that we are not enough competitives to make criticism

Elena. (author) from Madrid on December 21, 2008:

Thanks, robie!  :-)  Sticking to the issue would save us all from so much unnecessary grief!  As would saying what we think, respectfully, without trashing what others think!

To me, the perfect playground to test this theory is the religion forums.  Shall I say more?  Methinks not :-)

Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on December 21, 2008:

Well Done!!!! You hit so many nails on the head LOL. I especially like the part about sticking to the issue and not attacking the person. This is key key key....and yes it is much easier to judge or see oneself as victimized than to really examine opinioons and ideas. Kudos Elena.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on December 21, 2008:

I am SO getting on your case! :-) Thanks for stopping by, you troublemaker, you!

Ayer on December 21, 2008:

Hi Leni! I agree!

BTW, you forgot #5 "People who agree with everything others say to avoid conflict". Don't get on my case, though! xx

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