Many people begin their criticism with sincere praise followed by the word “but” and ending with a critical statement. For example, in trying to change a child’s careless attitude toward studies, we might say, ” We’re really proud of you, Johnny, for raising your grades this term. But if you had worked harder on your algebra, the results would have been better.” In this case, Johnny might feel encouraged until he hears the word “but.” He might then question the sincerity of the original praise. To him, the praise seemed only to be a contrived lead-in to a critical inference of failure. Credibility would be strained, and we probably would not achieve our objectives of changing Johnny’s attitude toward his studies.

This could be easily overcome by changing the word “but” to “and”. “We’re really proud of you, Johnny, 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.” Now Johnny would accept the praise because there was no follow-up of an inference of failure. We have called his attention to the behavior we wished to change indirectly, and the chances are he will try to live up to our expectations. Calling attention to one’s mistakes indirectly works wonders with sensitive people who may resent bitterly any direct criticism.

*Compilation taken from “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie