Are You Too Critical? Research Says…Probably

My 21-year old daughter stopped me in my tracks.  “Have you ever heard your tone of voice with Jack (her 14 year old brother)?” she asked me this week.   The implication was clear and clearly troubling!  Of course, none of us do hear just what we sound like.  Nor do we measure how often we are critical versus how often we are positive in our communications at work and home.

Increasingly, researchers are doing just that.  They are counting.  The famous marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman and his team stand behind a one-way mirror and they count the positive vs. the critical comments that couples make.  Gottman calculates the ratio of positive-to-critical for each couple.  Then he tracks those couples for years.  The results, which I share in this 3-minute video (also posted on Maria Shriver’s site), will blow you away.  If you have a strong interest in John’s marriage research, you might pick up Why Marriages Succeed or Fail.

In the business context, Barbara Frederickson author of Positivity:  Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive, has also done a lot counting.  She and Marcial Losada studied 40 business teams and meticulously counted the communicative behaviors. They found a clear and dramatic statistical relationship that separates high performing teams from others.

Before you watch the video and hear about their findings (or after you do) I invite you to estimate your own ratio of positive-to-critical comments that you make.  Spend one day keeping track of your comments. What did you find?  Are you being too critical? Share your findings, questions and strategies for creating a positive ratio in this comment section. Give the 5:1 ratio a try and…

Lead with your best self,


  • This topic is parallel to one I’ve been thinking about: the extent to which we are self-critical. Many of us have been raised in religious traditions that instilled a sense of guilt for certain behaviors. That’s a way to help a child develop a conscience and social sensitivity. It’s a way to help people set high goals for themselves–goals they may not reach on the first attempt. Still, not sufficient reason to be self-critical in my opinion. We tried and may have failed on a first attempt but better than not trying at all! We need to give ourselves credit for trying!

    In Karen Armstrong’s _Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life_, she encourages all of us to be compassionate towards OURSELVES. Perhaps in doing so, we will be more likely to cut others a little slack and be less critical. If someone is doing their best (and we can assume that they are, but everyone’s best varies from day to day depending on whether they got enough sleep, good nutrition, the weather, etc.), then criticism doesn’t help them get the courage to try again–even though they may fail on multiple attempts!

    In traditional mainline religions in the developed Western world, much emphasis is given to praising god in worship ceremonies. In new faith traditions that call on ancient wisdom and are in synch with discoveries in modern physics, the belief is that there is really one reality that we all participate in. If that one reality is “god,” then as Jesus of Nazareth said, quoting a psalm, “You are all gods.” Whether you believe he was talking about petty judges or having divine power and authority, it’s certainly true that all of us enjoy praise.

    Try it! You might like it! Sending positive, praising messages trains our subconscious to think more positive thoughts about ourselves. One finger points to the other, three fingers point back to self, magnifying the positive (or critical) message in the subconscious of the sender.

  • How wonderful that your daughter is free to give you that kind of feedback. How healthy..

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