Criticism. No one likes getting it, and no one likes to give it unless they are hiding behind an internet handle like “superdouche69”. Still, it’s vital to maintaining standards of quality in every field of human endeavor. All of our science comes from articles that are peer-reviewed and criticized. We defer to critics to decide which movie to go see or where to have dinner. Unfortunately, we have reached a point in our civilization where it’s rude to claim authority. No one’s going to criticize anybody if we’re too afraid someone will think we’re “The Man”.

Teachers are often in the uncomfortable position of having authority in a society that abhors it. My wife learned this wonderful axiom in her teacher training that she has passed on to me. It’s called PQS: Praise, Question, Suggestion.

Say there’s a fly in your soup. You could say nothing and appreciate the new garnish. You could threaten to deprive the overworked waitress of her 5% tip. Or, you could simply say, “Excuse me, this soup looks really good, but is that a fly in there? I was hoping I could get another bowl of soup.”

Less aggressive than, “Hey you, stop that!” and less patronizing than the compliment sandwich, PQS can soften the blow of criticism, even when the recipient expects it. It also saves the critic from the tautological mess of trying to find a nice way to express dissatisfaction. Criticism is an intellectually difficult form of inter-person confrontation. It’s so much easier to burrow into one’s cubicle and avoid making any one feel bad, ever. In an age where we are all “individuals”, and social mores don’t count for much, sometimes we still need those customs to get through those unavoidable little battles of life.