I will start right off the bat by saying that on the surface and perhaps a little deeper, I myself am a cynic. It’s not that I necessarily want to be but I have a ready disposition to point out what I don’t like about something. But being critical doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk; here’s a few lessons I’ve learned along the way that will help people see you as a critical thinker and boundary pusher rather than just an a negative ass.
1. Be Critical, Not Negative.
Having an opinion is cheap, so have an informed opinion. Ask questions rather than statements about how much you dislike something. Ask people why they believe something, where they came by their information and then propose another possible interpretation. Just saying you disagree or that you don’t like something before someone has even explained their position means you aren’t listening, you’re just waiting for your turn to speak.
Be bold and assertive but recognize not everyone else has the same way of dealing with issues or problems. Maybe you can take heavy-handed criticism but it doesn’t mean that everyone can. I often run into this dilemma as people sometimes think I’m being overly critical of something because I don’t like it when in fact, they are making me think so my criticism is meant as a compliment. Make sure you know when and if your expert in depth criticism is called for.
3. Offer Solutions
Pointing out a problem is a pretty easy thing to do. Offering up a viable, positive solution is much harder. People will value your criticism much more if you are able to suggest an alternative (and better) solution. I sometimes frame it like this for people: don’t tell me that it sucks, tell me why it sucks and how to make it better.
Nick is a 4th year History major at UBC, as well as the CEO (and sole employee) of Unboring Learning.com, a free online learning site. His 5th grade report card said: "Nick is a conscientious student but distracts his classmates." You can follow him on Twitter: @unboringlearn