Feb 152013 6 Responses

Criticism: How To Speak So Others Listen

Is there anything done so poorly, with such frequency, as criticism?

From the moment we appear from the womb with a cry announcing we don’t like what’s going on, we are in the process of evaluating and critiquing everyone and everything around us.

Criticism is necessary:

  • It reveals blind spots.
  • It confirms weaknesses.
  • It empowers us to change.
  • It makes us better.

Criticism would be wonderful, if we weren’t so bad at it. However, we are bad at it and our inability to criticize in a constructive way destroys relationships, annihilates the self-esteem of our children, poisons friendships, and turns our work places into environments where we are afraid to make a mistake.

We must do better.

We should not abandon criticism (although doing it less is probably a good idea); we must learn to criticize in a more helpful way.

As a person who regularly speaks in public, I am often criticized by people who have never spoken in public and would probably hyperventilate at the thought of having to do so. What I have found is that I am quick to listen to many people’s critiques while I’m quick to ignore others. What makes the difference? Why would I listen to some and dismiss others? How can someone who never speaks in public help me improve my public speaking?

Here is what I have found.

I listen to people who:

Seek to understand before they criticize. They know they may have misunderstood or not heard properly. Instead of quickly telling me what I said, they humbly tell what they think they heard and ask me to clarify. This begins a dialogue and builds trust.

Tell their story. We can debate a lot of things, but we can’t debate your feelings. When someone tells me how they felt about something, I can only listen. It gives me their perspective. It is only one perspective of many, but it is one perspective which cannot be ignored. The most powerful words of critique are “I feel” or “I think.” You can’t speak for everyone, but you can speak for yourself.

Are open for feedback. Criticism should be a conversation, not a rant. It is a give and take in which two people are trying to get better. Criticism should never happen anonymously. It should only happen in the confines of relationship. Anonymous criticism announces that the criticizer is so confident they are right they don’t need to hear feedback from the one they are criticizing. No one should be so confident.

Receive criticism well. Nothing reveals our hearts as much as how we receive criticism. I want to learn and grow from people whom I respect. If I see someone receive criticism well, I’m quick to listen when they give criticism. If I see someone who cannot receive criticism, I’m slow to trust what they say.

Criticism is a necessary part of life. The wise seek it. However, it is far more important to criticize in the right way than to be right about your criticism. How we criticize is more important than what we criticize.

“A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.” Proverbs 15.5

What causes you to listen to some criticism but not others?

6 Responses to Criticism: How To Speak So Others Listen
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