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.]

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