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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How to criticize well

Come on now, you have to agree with me, right?

Everyone criticizes at some point or another.
And - everyone will be criticized.  Jesus, the sinless son of God was constantly on the receiving end of criticism.  Amazing.
What brings on a desire to criticized?
You are troubled by a problem, deeply troubled. 

Your boss at work isn't listening.  Your spouse is doing something that just irritates the socks off of you.  You don't agree with the way a brother or sister in Christ are ministering - their methods, style and attitude.  Your preferences are not being attended to at the church.

What do you do?

The obvious answer is that your criticize, which is natural.  However, today, I would like to teach you some ways that you can criticize in a constructive manner.

I call this:  Rules for giving criticism.

1.  Pray.

We go to the obvious one first.  Spend time with God. 

Pray something like this:  "Lord, please control and direct my expression of negative criticism.  Restrain me from overcorrecting and resorting to handing out false platitudes.  Restrain me from clamming up and remaining silent when I should speak (why is it - in church life - that the "good people" remain silent - as people are walking in the flesh and causing division?).  Guide the way I speak so that critical communication will be constructive; and please, Lord, don't let my words sow discord in the church."

2.  Go directly.

This is huge.

Go directly to the person that you wish to criticize.  Gaining support and building coalitions with others in the church (or at your work) is not only unChristlike, but sin.

Jesus said, "If your brother sins against  you, go and tell him (her) his fault, between you and him alone."  Matthew 18:15.

3.  Go privately.

The criticism is to be delivered between you and them alone.

When you (or I) criticize someone in the presence of others, it is not only rude but a violation of 1 Corinthians 13:4, "Love is patient and kind."

And then - if that person fails to respond to your thoughts, inform them that the criticism will be shared with a third person who, with you, will attempt to help them understand.

Jesus also said, "But if does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses."  Matthew 18:6.

One caveat here:  that takes courage.  It takes courage to criticize someone directly and privately.

The easy way is to criticize behind his or her back. 

And BTW, understand this:  God calls us not only to speak creatively about one another (in a positive manner) but to listen creatively (in a godly way).

If someone comes to you whose "nose is bent out of joint" for a "won't you join my cause" conversation, you have a biblical responsibility to interrupt mid-sentence and say, "I think you are talking to the wrong person.  Please go to the individual with whom you are having this conflict and seek to resolve it in a God-glorifying way." 

4.  Lead with positive questions (seek first to understand and then to be understood).

Ask positive questions so that:

You can obtain additional information to make sure you have sufficient evidence on which to base your criticism.

The person you are criticizing can explain their position.

You can ask the person being criticized if they have considered the alternatives.

In other words, get the facts before you share your concerns.  Try to understand where the other person is coming from.

Perhaps they know something you don't know.

Perhaps you know something they don't know.

5.  Double check your motives for giving criticism.

Ask yourself:  Why do I feel the way I do?  Why am I expressing negative criticism?  Has my ego been hurt and do I want to embarrass somebody?  Is there a desire for retaliation or to advance my own status and control?  Or is my concern truly to help the person and strengthen our church family?  (or your work, or whatever?)

Some people criticize out of a need to make themselves look better - or feel better.  One rule of thumb is this:  If it is really painful for you to criticize someone, you are safe in doing it.  But if you take the slightest pleasure in it, that is the time to hold your tongue.

Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:2, "Rebuke with all long-suffering and doctrine."

6.  Be honest.

Be honest with your true feelings.

Many times, I am encouraged to seek someone out who has left our church - but when I do - to be candid with you - they are seldom honest with their true reasons for leaving. 

When you deliver criticism, ask the Lord to give you courage to be honest. 

Now then - a huge disclaimer:  There are times when it is not wise to express all that you think or feel.  It is never wise to napalm someone with your words.  Timing is important.  "Bringing the whole load," can be really, really destructive.

But what you say must be honest and real.  How dishonest it is to say one thing to a person directly and other things (about him or her) to other people.  (Read Ephesians 4:25).

7.  Speak the truth in love.

Handing off criticism is not a game or a competition.  There are no losers or winners in such a setting - only growers.  We must not hesitate to speak the truth, but it must always be in a spirit of love.  (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Ask yourself:  How much of the criticism which I give to others is actually rooted in my own impatience, lack of kindness, jealousy, conceit, and underlying joy in pointing out someone else's mistakes? 

8.  Be objective and specific.

Support your criticism with objective evidence rather than your own subjective opinions.

Do your homework.  Know what you are talking about.  Don't speak in generalities.  "A lot of people are saying."  "Someone told me this."  "Everyone is saying."  That is not only - not true - but casts intimidation and fear in the heart and mind of the person you are criticizing.  Use names.

Stay with the issue - and don't let it disintegrate into character assassination.  We all need to be held accountable as to our performance - but we must never allow ourselves to tear another person down.
9.  Earn the right to be heard.
There is only way one to "earn the right to be heard."  By being faithful and performing well.  And this takes time.  Trust is not only earned - but so is earning the right to give criticism.  In our "world" that would be someone who is new to a church family, new to a ministry situation or new to a church board.
10.  Suggest alternatives.
Come with solutions and not just the criticisms.  Anybody can point out a weakness, not everyone can propose answers. 
"Here is what I see is a challenge, and here is what I believe would be a better way," is a good approach.
And then - volunteer to help with the solution. 
Just some thoughts for a Tuesday.

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