If you find that you nitpick other people, it may be a behavior you want to change. Alternatively, it could be that you nitpick without realizing it–you might only be here because your habit was pointed out by someone else. Regardless, you’re here to read about how to stop nitpicking others.

Nitpicking can have negative consequences that affect both you and the other people in your life. So, when you nitpick, why is it bad for your health? Why do we do it in the first place, and perhaps more importantly, how do you stop?

What is nitpicking and why is it ineffective?

The definition of nitpicking is “giving too much attention to details that are not important, especially as a way of criticizing.” 

When we nitpick, we send the message that we are quick to judge someone else, regardless of the big picture. In this way, nitpicking can make a person feel like the good things they do don’t matter, because there will always be small bad things to pick at. It can put a strain on interpersonal relationships and cause stress, both on the individual who nitpicks and the individual on the receiving end.

Nitpicking often distracts from the bigger picture, especially in the workplace. For instance, how often do you nitpick compared to giving positive feedback? It’s extremely easy to take good performance for granted, so you think you don’t have to praise it. But especially if you’re a habitual nitpicker, consider how the balance of positive and negative feedback might be received. 

Without positive feedback, nitpicking may be the only way you reflect how you feel about the other person. To the other person, it can feel like you didn’t notice or are ignoring their positive traits. It can feel like you base their worth on just these small mistakes–instead of on their positive contributions. 

If you pick on small things like how a person carries themselves or uses a particular word that you don’t love, you convey the message that these little things matter more than the big picture. That can be extremely demotivating to even the best workers.

Why do people nitpick?

Often, when we nitpick someone else, it’s because we care. But there are also other potential reasons:

  • You believe you have advice or guidance someone else would benefit from (“if they’d only listen!” you might think), 
  • You (consciously or subconsciously) feel out of control or insecure,
  • Nitpicking is a way to express your needs after the fact, if you didn’t express them in the first place, or
  • There’s a bigger issue or source of worry in this particular relationship, but it’s easier to address the small things instead of the real issue. 

Let’s say, as an example, that you are nitpicking based on expectations that weren’t met by the other person. Ask yourself whether you expressed those expectations clearly. Nitpicking can feel like a way to make up for your lack of communication to begin with. However, it is more often received an expression that the other person should have read your mind.

Alternatively, maybe you nitpick because you want to help and think that you have a solution of some kind that could benefit the other person. Your intentions are good, but the vast majority of people do not find nitpicking helpful. It feels like unsolicited judgment, and they would prefer not to be on the receiving end of it. 

As tough as it can be not to step in when you feel that you could help someone better their lives or themselves, it’s far more likely to have a negative impact rather than a positive one.

What negative effects occur when we nitpick others?

If you nitpick someone in your life (like a partner, friend, employee), you may feel frustrated when they don’t hear you out or take your advice. However, the fact is that there are better ways to give negative or critical feedback. 

When we nitpick other people, two main things tend to happen:

  1. We get frustrated.
  2. They get frustrated.

In this pattern, we see what nitpicking has to do with health and overall wellbeing. The strain and stress caused by nitpicking can actually affect your health in a number of ways. 

Harm to relationships

First, nitpicking can cause your relationships suffer, which has a direct effect on health. Your habit might lead the other person to lie–they don’t want to feel controlled, and they don’t want to be the target of nitpicking, so they may hide things from you. It might start an argument, whether short or ongoing. It also may cause the recipient to rebel against your feedback. All in all, it’s a form of micromanagement that doesn’t tend to work.

Perhaps, you used to engage in the behavior you’re nitpicking in someone else and found it helpful to modify it. Or you think that, if the person listens, something in their life will be just a little bit better. These are admirable and positive goals, but it doesn’t mean that the outcome will be positive. 

Unnecessary conflict

Second, you’re not solving whatever problem is prompting the nitpicking–the habit only creates unnecessary conflict. Without giving constructive critical feedback, you will continue to feel frustrated by the behavior you’re trying to correct with your nitpicking. And the other person will feel increasingly hurt and frustrated, which certainly won’t prompt positive change. 

The physical effects of social stress

The above situational and social stress can combine with the direct stress of nitpicking to impact your physical well-being. Aside from the physical impacts of harmed relationships and unnecessary conflict, the nitpicking habit itself may be even more of an issue.

When you nitpick, you get in the habit of scanning your environment for problems, stressors, or even danger. Scanning for threats in this way can make you feel in control, but in reality, it’s the opposite. You become involved in a habit that only puts your body–and the people around you–on edge.

Short-term stress can cause muscle tension, trouble sleeping, headaches, and irritability. Long-term stress can be much more severe and may raise the risk of various serious health outcomes, like a heightened risk of autoimmune disease, heart disease and high blood pressure.

If you pair that with the other possible outcomes, such as a tense, unbalanced, or resentful bond with the other person, it’s clear why you might want to stop nitpicking others.

How to stop nitpicking others

Nitpicking can be a problem in the workplace, in romantic relationships, in familial relationships, or in friendships. Regardless of where it happens, try the steps below to learn how to stop nitpicking others.

Call it what it is.

You may or may not have heard the statement “impact over intent.” What that means is that the impact of your action is more relevant than the intent. It doesn’t matter whether you meant to hurt someone or not; the reality is that they felt hurt, and that’s what needs to be addressed.

This doesn’t mean that you should beat yourself up if your positive intent didn’t come through clearly. Instead, it means you have a learning opportunity to change how you communicate–to make your intent and impact align better. 

So, regardless of your intent, even if you’re nitpicking out of deep love and positive intentions, it is an unhealthy and non-beneficial behavior that can test relationships and cause personal distress. You’re not a bad person, but this is a bad habit.

Identify exactly when and where nitpicking seeps in.

Self-reflection might be helpful in some cases. What tempts you to nitpick other people? Are there specific topics that you tend to nitpick other people about? This can be an opportunity for self-reflection. It can also help to look beyond the topic itself. Do you nitpick more when you are emotionally stressed? What are the negative impacts of it on your relationship or your own well-being? Notice how it impacts the relationship and focus on that. 

Have an open discussion with the other person.

When you have an open discussion about past behavior where you have used nitpicking, it can make things a whole lot easier (and the relationship a whole lot healthier) for a couple of reasons. 

First, this conversation is a way to hold yourself accountable. If you acknowledge your behavior and verbalize your desire to stop, there’s an added sense of awareness and accountability. 

Second, this discussion can give the other person a sense of relief and mitigate any potential resentment they have around the issue. 

Start with an apology or acknowledgment of your behavior. If you’re not sure how to word it, you might say something like: 

“I realize that I have a bit of a nitpicking habit. I respect your patience with me and want to apologize for doing that. While I nitpicked without noticing before, I’m making an effort to stop and modify this behavior.” 

You might even invite the other person to help: “I am trying to stop, but in the meantime, please do say something when it happens. There will be no hard feelings–you will just be helping me stop a bad habit.”

Additionally, it never hurts to collaborate on better ways to communicate, in order to replace your nitpicking urges. If you’ve been known to nitpick, the people around you might feel on-guard about any type of feedback. So, you might consider asking the other person how they’d like to receive critical feedback in the future. This can help them regain a sense of autonomy and potentially help repair your relationship. 

Acknowledge what you can and can’t control.

As we briefly discussed, nitpicking can have many different underlying causes, one of which may be a need for control. 

Acknowledge what you can control in your life, as well as what you can’t. You can’t control what other adult human beings do, and you don’t want to–ultimately, it’s not healthy, and it can lead to resentment on both sides. 

When you think of the things that you can control in your life, you’ll feel empowered. Things you can control include: personal goals, the way you treat other people, and ways that you can embrace your positive traits. Shift your focus to these things in order to build confidence and feel more in-control. 

When you are tempted to nitpick to control something that you can’t, or when you feel stressed out by a lack of control and nitpick as a means to take it out on other people, step back. You don’t need to feel bad because you’re working on breaking your habit. Instead, use it as an opportunity to reflect and think about what you can do instead that is healthy.

Brainstorm what to say instead. 

As behavioral science suggests, it’s hard to stop a habit without replacing it. For every “no” you give yourself, you should also give yourself a “yes.”

Maybe, there’s a particular situation where you nitpick unintentionally because it’s the only reaction you can think of. What comes off as nitpicking could be a habitual form of communication. 

Perhaps, you’re simply used to saying, “fix your hair!” or “sit up straight!” to your partner or sibling. It’s just a force of habit, but may come off in a more sinister way. So you could replace this habitual negative commentary with more positive sentiments. When you notice you’re about to comment on something wrong with the other person, choose to comment on something right. 

  • “Stop slouching at the register” becomes “I noticed how upbeat you seemed in the breakroom. That was awesome and I would love to see that energy out on the floor!”
  • “I told you so” becomes “You’re so compassionate. I’m sorry that happened.” 
  • “You look funny when you shuffle your feet like that” becomes “I love how kind you are to other people. You have a good heart.”
  • “You’re so shy. People won’t approach you if you stand against the wall” becomes “I want you to meet my friend when we get to the party. I think that they would like you!”

This can be a great exercise and might even help you retrain your brain, especially if nitpicking is a serious go-to habit that you have. 

What if someone else nitpicks me? 

Now you know what to do if you’re the one who nitpicks. But it’s important to note that most of us who nitpick have learned to do so from others–often on the receiving end of it. So if you’re trying to stop nitpicking, it can help to reject it when you’re on the receiving end, by setting a firm boundary. You can say something like:

  • “It’s not helpful for you to comment on how my clothing fits.”
  • “I see what you’re saying, but I think we’re getting distracted from the big picture.”
  • “What’s your goal in pointing that out? I’m not sure your comment is achieving the desired effect.”
  • “Do not tell my child not to fidget. I understand that you feel this is helpful, but I am their parent.”
  • “I understand that we have different tastes, but I like my hair the way it is.”
  • “I’m glad you find that helpful!”
  • “That’s not for me.” 

If the other person doesn’t respect your boundary at face value, it can also be helpful to say something along the lines of “I’m not sure if you noticed the boundary I just set. This is a firm boundary, and I will walk away/hang up the phone/leave with my child if you say ___ again.” 

Talk about it

Behavior change of any kind can be tough. Maybe, you nitpick someone else in your life, or it could be that they nitpick you and won’t stop no matter what you seem to say or do. If that’s the case, it can help to chat about the topic with someone else.

You can talk with someone close to you, like a friend, or you can reach out to someone anonymously through a peer support platform like Supportiv. Supportiv is available 24/7, and it’s easy to use. It can be difficult to stop nitpicking, and it can also be challenging to set boundaries – but you may find that it’s a lot easier with someone else by your side.