Human Relations Principle #23: Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.

(“How to criticize—and not be hated for it.”)


(This is the twenty-third in a series of articles where I will encapsulate each of Dale Carnegie’s timeless, life-changing principles for dealing with people. (Adapted from How to Win Friends and Influence People.))*

Calling attention to one’s mistakes indirectly works wonders with sensitive people who may resent bitterly any direct criticism.

Simply changing one three-letter word can often spell the difference between failure and success in changing people without giving offense or arousing resentment. Many people begin their criticism with sincere praise followed by the word “but”  and ending with a critical statement. The word “but” has the psychological effect of negating what was said before it. When we hear the word “but” our mind and body go into defensive mode preparing for the hurtful criticism that is to come. It is much more effective to change the word “but” to “and.”

How to help your children improve their grades and their self-confidence

Since the new school year is beginning, here’s a timely example of how I might apply it with my child and his grades:

Rather than saying this, “We are really proud of you, Joey, for raising your grades this term. But if you had worked harder on your algebra, the results would have been better.”

I might say this instead, “We’re really proud of you, Joey, for raising your grades this term, and by continuing the same conscientious efforts next term, your algebra grade can be up with all the others.”

By using the second approach, Joey would be more likely to accept the praise because there would be no follow-up of an inference of failure. Instead, we have called attention to the behavior we wish to change indirectly, and the chances are he will try to live up to our expectations.

Today, let’s choose to call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly so we achieve improved cooperation and mutual success.

Much success and fulfillment with mastering human relations,



* The best guide on effective human relations that I have ever encountered is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, published in 1936. Prior to writing the book, Carnegie spent 20 years researching the habits of successful people. The book has sold over 30 million copies and is still listed on Amazon’s top 100 best selling books.

Other articles within this series you may enjoy:

3 Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

6 Ways to Make People Like You

12 Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking


9 Ways to Be a Leader: 

How to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment

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