What do you do with a Critical Fool?


  • “Whoever decided we need to repaint the walls is an idiot.”
  • “Alex messed up this new flyer.”
  • “That’s not our updated logo.” “
  • “Susan is just complaining about the filing system because she’s too disorganized to get it.”
  • “Don’t ask Jack to work on that project, he will never understand what you want done.”
  • “Management brought in contractors because they think we aren’t good enough to handle this on our own.”

Criticism needs to be dealt with. The critic and the criticized have choices to make and hanging in the balance could be a relationship, a partnership, a project, a broader culture, or the business’ ability to function and grow. In the critical comments list above, one stands apart. Can you spot it?


Is the remark criticism or critique?

If the comment refers to an object, behavior, or process, it may better be described as a critique, skepticism, or observation. Critique, assessment, and “constructive criticism”, arise from curiosity, concern, or not fully understanding what happened. Critique is not a personal attack. The aim is sharing perspective and beliefs, learning and teaching.

Criticism is personal. Commentary regarding a person or group and stems from disapproval, assumption, and projected faults the critic perceives. Criticism also comes from not understanding, but instead of being met with curiosity, that lack of knowledge is met with judgement. Criticism’s goal is to damage, harm or demean another. Beware: it is never effective to simply call criticism a critique—it does not “make it better,” but we have noticed this behavior when the person criticizing becomes aware of their action and wants to make it better.

Is there an underlying cause?

In the case of a critique, the underlying cause is more easily discovered and addressed. An aspect of the target can be corrected or explained. Those involved gain knowledge and understanding.
With criticism, the true cause is less clear; the motives and intent of both the critic and target are called into question, often as a deflection or smoke screen to guide the interaction away from the root cause. Criticism is also a form of defensiveness. Since the goal is to inflict damage, the outcome of the attack is largely up to the target.

What is the value of the relationship?

When giving a critique, one person is seeking to connect more fully with another, again, to learn or to teach. Critique comes from differences in knowledge. The relationship is strengthened, even if stressed in the moment, growth occurs.

Judgement and criticism come from differences in beliefs, misalignment in expectations, and plain old projection of one’s own fears. By lashing out, the critic demonstrates a lack of respect for the relationship and diverts energy away from progress. It is up to the one who is criticized to decide what value they place on the relationship, or how they will choose to value the beliefs of the critic.

Where does the power of criticism come from?

Whether a critique is delivered tactfully or inelegantly, the impact is directly related to how much knowledge and understanding are gained from the exchange. The power comes from the factual understanding that is conveyed.

The power of criticism comes from the external critic speaking directly to another’s internal critic. The worry, self-doubt, fear, and need for validation that exists, to varying degrees, in all people can be a persistent motivator, or in this case demotivator. The internal, negative voice can wreak havoc on self-confidence and productivity, especially when given the megaphone of another’s criticism to amplify the negative message. In concert, these damaging forces are granted power by the person being criticized.

See what Criticism supports and What the Results of Criticism are

What can you do to develop character and self-control (along with empathy), ultimately be more understanding and forgiving while you lead change?

  • Check in with yourself: develop self-awareness and believe in your (and other’s) ability to improve.
  • Seek out the wins, big and small: every thought in our minds either moves us toward happiness or away from it; your perspective makes the difference.
  • Consider people individually: there are more experiences that unite us to one another than divide us.
  • Look to connect with others and learn to share the journey.
  • Let yourself off the hook: acknowledge the positives in your life and speak kindly to yourself.
  • Remind yourself how it felt to be judged, and how it felt to be forgiven.

Our Advice:  Use These Best Practices

  • Approach each interaction, the successes and the screw ups, with curiosity. 
  • Trust that change is a necessary component of growth, and growth benefits everyone. 
  • Silence the critic (internally and externally).
  • Create an environment where it is ok to take productive risks that propel the project and organization forward.
  • Intentionally develop character and self-control.
  • Invite engagement, address resistance.
  • Create and nurture an environment bustling with curiosity, self-awareness, forgiveness, trust, and connection, so everyone can show up as a leader.

Do you want to grow your leadership skills? contact one of our coaches today!

Do you know what to do when the fool walks in, judging others?