You did a good job, but . . .

beautiful girl enjoying the summer sunWhen was the last time you heard those words? It’s hard to focus on the compliment when you hear the word “but.”  Usually you get the idea that the speaker wouldn’t have bothered to  give the compliment if that’s all she had to say. She’s merely using the compliment to lead into the advice or criticism which is her main priority.

First let me give some disclaimers.

  • Telling someone what they did right before you say what they did wrong is a good way to soften the blow.
  • We should be open to constructive criticism because it can help us improve and grow.
  • When the person is ready to hear it, carefully worded advice can be extremely helpful.

In spite of that fact, I believe most people need encouragement more than advice.  Encouragement gives confidence to try again and perhaps do better the next time. Think about the last time someone told you, “You did a good job, but . . .” Which part did you remember the most, the positive or the negative? Did it inspire you to do a better job, or was the negative comment impossible to get out of your mind? Do you drive better when someone sits beside you and points out all your mistakes? Do you speak or sing or play an instrument better when someone comes up to you afterward and tells you how you could have done better?

There is a time when constructive criticism is in order. Here are some of them:

  • When you are in a teaching or mentoring position with the person.
  • When they ask you for advice or help.
  • After you have developed a give-and-take relationship with them and earned the right to be heard.
  • When you have learned from them and know they are open to learning from you.
  • When they are making some very dangerous choices and don’t realize it.

It’s like listening. We need to listen to hear and understand, not just to find an excuse to say what we want to say. And we need to give compliments to encourage, not just to give us an excuse to offer advice. When we give frequent compliments and encouragement the person will probably be more ready to listen to occasional advice or criticism. But some of us, face it, seldom give compliments that don’t come with a “but.” Some of us dispense advice and criticism generously, but aren’t ready to listen to advice and criticism ourselves. We need to become good listeners and good encouragers.

It’s easy to compliment children and people just learning to do tasks. It’s often harder to compliment the person who faithfully does a task well. But my experience tells me that most people would thrive if they had more encouragement, compliments, and thanks.

“The finest gift you can give anyone is encouragement. Yet almost no one gets the encouragement they need to grow to their full potential. If everyone received the encouragement they needed to grow, the genius in most everyone would blossom and the world would produce abundance beyond our wildest dreams.” (Sidney Madwed)

Who needs your encouragement today?

[Image courtesy of EBreHNN ATaMaHeHKO/Deposit Photos.]

Responding to Feedback

two_sidesPicture the most obnoxious person you know. The one who exasperates you and puts dangerous words on the tip of your tongue. If you will, you can learn something from that person–even beyond things you want to avoid doing because of his bad example. It takes more maturity than most people have, but it is possible to learn helpful things from the most unhelpful person. If not, why did God put that person in your life?

In my book Two Sides to Everything Josh fleshes out this principle. That protagonist has been challenging this author ever since he came to life on the pages of my book. It isn’t easy to learn from people with flagrant flaws who express criticism in the least sensitive ways. It means listening to learn, weighing thoughts before dismissing them, and viewing things fairly from another perspective. Skills like that are quickly becoming a dying art, yet how we need them!

In the TV show from the 1980’s Perfect Strangers, immigrant Balki tells his American cousin Larry, “On Mipos when someone points out a flaw in our lives we thank him for helping us to experience personal growth.” Larry’s reply: “Well, this is America, and in America we shy away from personal growth.”

Of course, criticism is an even more useful tool if the person offering it does so kindly and constructively. Even then most of us are quick to defend ourselves, and slow to learn from it. All of us need to be open to feedback. If we can take an honest look at our weaknesses, we can overcome them and experience personal growth.

As writers, when we put our passions into print, each manuscript can become a precious child, an extension of ourselves. It hurts to see it criticized. Our friends know enough to defend its good qualities and overlook the bad. This makes us feel good about ourselves, but it doesn’t improve our writing. We need to treasure the true friends who will kindly offer constructive criticism.

Imagine the editor who reads manuscripts all day long, and has to reject most of them. Far from being the meanie we make her out to be, she must quickly tire of returning standard rejection slips which she knows will disappoint writers and ruin their day. Overworked and barely keeping up with her schedule, she can hardly do more. On occasion she takes the time to offer a few very helpful words. If the writer bristles at the criticism, the editor will take the easy way out next time and just send the standard letter. But the wise writer will treasure knowledgeable criticism and learn from it.

As Christian workers we gain insight from our experience. We know “what works” and sometimes we are slow to change. We can learn, however, from even a new Christian who sees our ministry from a fresh perspective. We may be ready to teach others, but we also have to be ready to learn from others.

We usually learn more from criticism than praise, but happily, we can profit from positive feedback as well as negative when it is specific enough to give clear direction.

Today my prayer for myself and all of us is that we will learn to profit from constructive criticism and look for ways to encourage each other with positive feedback.