Critique and argument are keys to progress

How are things made better? What are the forces that can improve products, services, systems, and ideas? Critique and argument are indispensable.

Most of us are uncomfortable offering critique and/or arguing. It’s easy and pleasant to praise, encourage, and agree with others, but it’s difficult to critique and challenge. Similarly, we enjoy hearing words of commendation but we bristle at phrases that suggest we should do things differently. We like it when people agree with us and affirm our thoughts, but when they push back and disagree we are put-off.   

But critique and argument are indispensable for progress. The key thing to remember is that feedback is a gift so critique and argument should be received (even solicited) and considered positive. 


Verb—to evaluate (a theory or practice) in a detailed and analytical way

Noun—a detailed analysis and assessment of something

I avoid using the words criticize and criticism because they sound harsh and oppositional, whereas critique is a softer, more helpful approach. 

Everything—a Broadway show, a new model of car, software, a new hire, work done, performance—is improved by intentional and systematic critique from multiple sources. Feedback is a gift, and critical feedback is especially useful.

My friend Allen is professor of choral studies at a major university. When coaching his conducting students, in addition to praising them for what they are doing well, he must tell them what they are doing wrong. If he doesn’t, they will think all they are doing is satisfactory. It would be counterproductive for him to praise something that needs to change.


Noun: a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong

Verb (argue): to exchange or express diverging or opposing views

Argument helps us clarify our thoughts and articulate them accurately, and we consider the ideas of others in a respectful and critical manner. 

(By the way, political debates are not good examples of the benefits of argument. When politicians “debate” all they’re basically saying is, “You’re wrong and I’m not.” There’s seldom any thoughtful discourse about real issues.)

Here’s a good article on the benefits of arguing.

In your family, at work, among friends…is it acceptable to critique one another? Is arguing allowed, even valued? The answer to both questions should be yes.

What do you think?

6 Replies to “Critique and argument are keys to progress”

  1. Yes!
    This is all such agreeable and valuable content for people in any situation to consider. As I lead a work team, I think we have an opportunity to hit these metrics and open ourselves to these deep dives. And for close personal relationships, which are truly “relationships to be managed, highly valued, and nurtured”, this applies.
    Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Marty, for affirming words. In most groups it’s difficult to argue and critique without being labeled a “dissident”; but it’s a healthy thing to engage in. Take care.

  2. Don,
    In the spirit of your discussion of Criticism and Argument, let me offer this gentle critique:
    You have disregarded the most important and basic element of C&A… that is “platform.” Your friend, Alan, has had years of formal education as well as more years of practical experience. That provides him with a platform to critique another musician. However, were I to criticize Alan on his directing technique or musical interpretation, the end result would be far different. I am not known for my musical experience or education, and therefore, I have no platform to critique.

    Yes, in a perfect world, where there is only collaboration and not competition, criticism and argument are great. In the world wherein we live, one should be known for their expertise in the area criticized… and many times, that applies to “praising” as well.

    Thank you for your blog! I appreciate you and depths of your discussions. Oh, wait… that was praise wasn’t it? Tough habit to break!

    1. Ron, thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’re right, having expertise in a particular area gives us more authority to offer critique in that realm. But in everyday conversation and among team members, I’m a big fan of critique and argument. Sometimes someone outside a unique group can offer an “outsiders” perspective.
      Thanks for reading and responding to my posts. Don

  3. Read Ps. 99 today. My Bible referred me to Exodus 17:7. NLT said ” Meribah” means “arguing.” Thank you for sending me your emails . . . and of course, for the wonderful music.

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