Peer critique. Positive criticism. Productive suggestions.

In most contexts, these terms describe something that is always easier said than done. Depending on who is giving and receiving, it is rare to find a relational dynamic with enough trust and vulnerability to enable absolute freedom in the act of offering any sort of corrective statement.

We can’t help it! Our human nature is to take offense at criticism. Even if I love you with every ounce of my soul, any suggestion that differs from my opinion forces me to make the uncomfortable decision to stay the course or to give in to a different way of doing or thinking or being.

We frequently ease the tension of peer critique by starting with a compliment. The problem is that one compliment is often followed by three negative statements or suggestions. It sounds something like this:

“Jill, I love your passion about this aspect of our company.


I’m not a fan of the way you did x,y,z.

I think it would work better if we redefined our goals from a different perspective.

Why don’t you try this approach instead?”

Even said in the most respectful tone with the most pure motivations, this 1:3 ratio almost always comes across pejoratively.

The challenge for the “suggester” is that it’s way easier to see the problems in another person’s approach to something than the assets.

Imagine the difference that would be made if we were to swap this ratio from 1:3 to 3:1. Instead of thinking that one compliment gives you enough relational capital to make three suggestions, try giving three compliments for every one suggestion.

“Jill, I love your passion about this aspect of our company.

You’ve really put a lot of extra hours into researching how this might benefit our team.

No one has a better understanding about all of this than you do.


What would happen if we were to redefine our goals from a different perspective?”

I guarantee that the suggestion has three times the chance of being heard and appreciated with this 3:1 suggestion ratio than the original 1:3 ratio by which most of us operate.

The trick is that it makes you stop and think about compliments that might not come quickly to mind. By the time you’ve thought about three unique compliments, even you might think to yourself, “Is this suggestion even worth raising?”

Imagine what this could do to political conversations on social media!

Jill: “I support more gun control!”

1:3 Jack: “Jill, I appreciate that you’re my friend, but you could not be more wrong. More gun control will simply make this country more dangerous.   We will simply be making it harder for the good guys to get guns to protect us from the bad guys who will get them anyway. You really need to rethink your position on this.”

3:1 Jack: “Jill, I appreciate that you’re my friend. You have a way of thinking through things analytically more than most people I know. I also think it’s great that you have such a conviction about your beliefs. You may have already thought about this angle, but it seems to me that more gun control will simply limit the good guys from buying the guns they need to protect us from the bad guys who will get them anyway.”

Whether or not Jill ever agrees with Jack is completely up to Jill. But if there were ever a chance of Jack’s suggestion being heard by Jill, it certainly seems more plausible in the second scenario.

Think about what the 3:1 suggestion ratio would look like in your setting: your workplace, your marriage, your mentoring relationship, or your family. Try it out and see what happens!

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