Principle number one: ‘Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.’

The title quote is the first principle out of 30 from Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People. All of the other principles are positive: be a good listener; give honest appreciation; make the other person feel important; try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view — the list goes on. It’s interesting to note that the only principle that says, “DON’T,” also happens to be the first one.

When thinking about this a little deeper, if you violate principle number one you’ve made it considerably more difficult to have any positive influence with the others. This is vitally important in building strong, enduring relationships.

When you criticize, condemn, and complain, you are clearly putting relationship points in the debit column. You more than likely know people who do this all too frequently. They are the kind of folks who light up the room only when they leave. Gary Player, the professional golfer, once said, “Some people think their own candle burns brighter when they snuff out other people’s candles.”

Not only does criticism have a negative effect on personal relationships, it can also destroy business relationships. In one of our training programs we ask people to share an experience that they could “buy back” if they could. The following story is one of the more powerful.

An individual worked for a local construction company. He was driving on the Beltline on a nice summer day in a company pickup with the company logo on both sides of the truck. All of a sudden he was passed and almost sideswiped by a little, red, two-seater Mercedes, driven by an attractive lady. Not to be outdone, and apparently to justify his manhood, he caught up to her and did exactly the same thing to her. To put an exclamation point on the maneuver, he actually flipped her off as he passed and made darn sure she saw the gesture.

Later that day when he got back to the shop, his boss called him to his office. The boss basically repeated the part of the story about him going after the Mercedes. He also said that the woman had been about to sign a significant remodeling contract with the company. Not only was she now NOT going to sign the contract, she promised that she would tell all her friends the story, along with the strong recommendation to never do business with the company.

Does criticism have an impact on business relationships? Duh!



It was Dale Carnegie who said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn, or complain.” What he did not say is how many of us fall into the foolish trap and put those negative points in the debit column of personal and professional relationships. In today’s fast-paced electronic world, I cannot tell you how many stories I have heard about those who have hit “Reply All” in a highly emotional state and regretted it the moment they took their finger off the SEND button. An old friend of mine used to have a saying that reiterates the point:

“Be careful of the words you speak,
Keep them soft and sweet,
Because you’ll never know from day to day,
Which ones you’ll have to eat.”

I know some of you are saying, “What about constructive criticism?” Yes, there are times when it is important to let another person know that their behavior or way of doing a task needs improvement. In fact, my previous blog addressed exactly that issue. See “Constructive Criticism: A Few Tips on the Constructive Part.”

In conclusion, if the goal is build and maintain — not destroy — long-term personal and business relationships, it is probably a good idea to stay away from criticism, condemnation, and complaining.

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