‘Well,” said my father, smiling at me in the middle of an argument, “I wouldn’t say you are wrong, but you aren’t right.” All of us seek a balance when we criticize others, or at least we should. Here are five tentative rules for offering criticism:
1. Never do it in front of other people, only privately.
2. Precede and follow criticism with genuine statements of affection, and optimism about the possibility of improvement.
3. Make sure the criticism is intended to help another grow and not out of resentment or to prove how clever or insightful you are.
4. Take your time beforehand. Don’t speak out of haste or anger.
5. Be willing to hear criticism in return.
No one likes to hear that they have done badly or could do better. But we all increase our chances of being heard if we criticize thoughtfully and not out of pique. As Paul Simon memorably wrote, “You don’t have to lie to me/ Just give me some tenderness/ Beneath your honesty.”
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book, “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press), is just out.