Nobody Wants Constructive Criticism; It’s All We Can Do To Put Up with Constructive Praise

Mignon McLaughlin? Alan Sheldon? Stephen R. Covey? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Receiving criticism is painful even when it is described as constructive. The witty journalist Mignon McLaughlin made a germane comment on this theme. Would you please help me to find a citation.

Quote Investigator: In 1960 the unnamed columnist of “Thoughts and Things” in “The Herald Journal” of Logan, Utah printed the following three remarks without attribution. Boldface added to excerpts: 1

Nobody wants constructive criticism; it’s all we can do to put up with constructive praise.

Women are good listeners, but it’s a waste of time telling your troubles to a man unless there is something specific you want him to do.

Most of us could scrape by on twice our present income.

Interestingly, in 1963 Mignon McLaughlin published “The Neurotic’s Notebook”, and the three remarks above were included in the book. The comment about constructive criticism appeared on page 41 within a chapter about health, happiness, and self-esteem. 2 The remark about listening appeared on page 38 within a chapter about men and women. 3 The statement about income appeared on page 84 within a section about getting and spending. 4

QI believes McLaughlin should receive credit for these three remarks. The 1960 columnist probably saw the statements in a preliminary version of the book or an earlier piece by McLaughlin.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1915 W. Somerset Maugham published a book in which a character spoke a thematically related remark: 5

“People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise. Besides, what’s the good of criticism? What does it matter if your picture is good or bad?”

QI has created a separate article about Maugham’s remark available here.

In 1956 English playwright Noel Coward delivered a thematically related remark: 6

“I always say I love criticism as long as it is unqualified praise.”

QI has created a separate article about Coward’s remark available here.

Mignon McLaughlin’s quip entered circulation during the 1960s as shown previously.

In 1975 “Organizational Issues in Health Care Management” by Alan Sheldon included a differently phrased instance without attribution: 7

Of course, one might well say in despair what does it matter how well designed a system is when no one wants constructive criticism for it is all that they can do to cope with constructive praise.

In 1989 “Jokes & Quotes for Speeches” by Peter Eldin included the statement together with an ascription to McLaughlin: 8

Nobody wants constructive criticism. It’s all we can do to put up with constructive praise.
Mignon McLaughlin

In 1997 “Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes: Wit and Wisdom for All Occasions” included the quotation and credited McLaughlin. 9

In 2006 “Everyday Greatness: Inspiration for a Meaningful Life” by Stephen R. Covey included the quotation and credited McLaughlin. 10

In conclusion, Mignon McLaughlin deserves credit for the statement about constructive criticism in the “The Neurotic’s Notebook” of 1963. The remark was circulating by 1960, but QI believes McLaughlin crafted it.

Update History: On January 26, 2021 the citations for W. Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward were added to the article together with links to the pertinent QI articles.

Notes:

  1. 1960 July 14, The Herald-Journal, Thoughts and Things: Put Them in Prisons? He Proposes a Better Way, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Logan, Utah. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1963, The Neurotic’s Notebook by Mignon McLaughlin, Chapter 4: Health, Happiness, Self-Esteem, Quote Page 41, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1963, The Neurotic’s Notebook by Mignon McLaughlin, Chapter 3: Men and Women, Quote Page 38, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1963, The Neurotic’s Notebook by Mignon McLaughlin, Chapter 9: Getting and Spending, Quote Page 84, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1915, Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, Chapter 50, Quote Page 267, The Sun Dial Press, Garden City, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  6. 1956 January 8, The Des Moines Register, Section: Iowa TV Magazine, Noel Coward a ‘Blithe Spirit’–in Sunny Jamaica (Continuation title: ‘I Love Criticism, Just So It’s Unqualified Praise’) by Margaret McManus (Exclusive Dispatch to The Iowa TV Magazine), Start Page 1, Quote Page 5, Column 3 and 4, Des Moines, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1975, Organizational Issues in Health Care Management by Alan Sheldon, Chapter 3, Section: Organization Structure and Operating Mechanisms, Quote Page 76, SP Books Division of Spectrum Publications, New York. (Verified with scans)
  8. 1989 Copyright, Jokes & Quotes for Speeches by Peter Eldin, Section: All occasions, Topic: Criticism, Quote Page 63, Ward Lock Limited, London. (Verified with scans)
  9. 1997, Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes: Wit and Wisdom for All Occasions, Quote Page 42, Published by Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  10. 2006, Everyday Greatness: Inspiration for a Meaningful Life, Insights and Commentary by Stephen R. Covey, Compiled by David K. Hatch, Part: Teaming With Others, Chapter 14: Empathy, Topic: Receiving Feedback, Quote Page 284, Rutledge Hill Press: A Division of Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee. (Verified with scans)