Posted by: Jack Henry | April 6, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Critical and Judgmental

Good morning, dear readers. One of you recently asked about the difference between the terms critical and judgmental. This seemed like great topic to cover right now, particularly as we watch videos and read more about social bias. And then there’s that other event in early summer: annual self-evaluations.

Like a lot of words in English, critical and judgmental both seem like adjectives that mean unfavorable opinions or commentary, but let’s have a closer look. Our buddies at Merriam-Webster say the following:


1a: inclined to criticize severely and unfavorably

b: consisting of, marked by, being, or involving criticism<a critical biography><his critical insight>also: of or in the judgment of critics<the book won wide critical praise><the play was a critical success>

c: exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation: discriminating, careful, exact


1: of, relating to, or involving judgment<emphasizing the judgmental aspect of morality — Sing-nan Fen>

2: characterized by a tendency to judge people harshly

As you can see, the two words do have some cross-over, but critical can simply mean careful or exact, which would be good in the circumstance of a review where you want to know what you’re doing well and what you need some help with. The word critical does not necessarily have the weight behind it that judgmental does. Judgmental has an aspect of morality to it that seems to say, “I am a better person than you” or “You think you are a better person than me.”

I’m including a part of an article that explains the difference with good examples and a nice story. I updated the spelling because it was written with British English. The whole article is at this website: Be Critical, Not Judgmental.

After my dad passed away a couple of years back, one of his friends wrote to us saying, “One of your father’s great strengths was that he was critical, but not judgmental.”

“What’s the difference?” I asked myself. I mistakenly thought till then that being critical was the same as criticizing. And gradually I understood the difference. Being critical means examining the idea or statement or behavior in a well-reasoned manner. Being judgmental (or criticizing) means that you are taking a view on something based on your personal value system. Being judgmental often has an unhelpful ring to it, but being critical need not be negative, and can often be positive. In today’s world the two are used interchangeably and that’s why I initially didn’t grasp what he had written.

Dad always asked the awkward question, quite often much to our embarrassment. He would not accept status quo and he challenged what people said. But he did it not to embarrass the other person. Nor to belittle the other person. He did it to understand why someone did something.

And he did not pass judgement. Even when someone did something that he disagreed with, he would discuss the issue more to analyze it and to help the other person, than to pass a value judgement….

When people are judgmental it is difficult to build a relationship of trust, because the [other person] will always be worried about being criticized.

Being critical, on the other hand, is fine because people need honest feedback. What we also learnt is that people need to be taught how to give critical feedback without sounding judgmental.

Hopefully, you will treat each other with grace (as some of our leaders and coworkers say), and when someone is looking for constructive criticism, you can offer it kindly, without making any personal judgements. Toastmasters is a great example: you get a critique on both your positive skills and on what you need to work on, while everyone in the group also supports you happily, from day one of joining.

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Editing: Symitar Documentation Services

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