10 quick questions to ask before making that critical comment

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Most of us are far too critical. We criticize far too quickly, and far too freely.

Here’s a check list of things to consider before criticizing…

1. AM I SEEKING FIRST TO UNDERSTAND, BEFORE SEEKING TO BE UNDERSTOOD?

In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey states that we need to ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’.

He explains: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives… Seek first to understand. Before the problems come up, before you try to evaluate and prescribe, before you try to present your own ideas—seek to understand”.

2. AM I PREPARED TO BE JUDGED?

Jesus said: Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).

As soon as we criticize someone for something, it is inevitable that they’ll come back at us with faults that they see in our own lives. If we attack someone for being insensitive, they’ll more than likely bring up all the times they can remember when we were insensitive. And if they can’t think of a time when we were insensitive, they’ll bring up a time when we were selfish, or politically incorrect, or hurtful.

Jesus went onto ask: Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).

3. HAVE I ABIDED BY THE 5:1 RATIO?

In his book, “How full is your bucket?“, Tom Rath cites numerous studies to argue of the incredible need to constantly be affirming others. He recommends giving 5 positives for every 1 negative.

If we want to have any influence whatsoever, people need to know that we believe in them and want what is best for them. We should ensure that we are making many deposits before we make withdrawals (see ‘Love Tank’ concept from “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman).

4. DO I ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THE PERSON I’M CRITICIZING?

The Apostle Paul wrote: “If someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

In commenting on the passage, Martin Luther explained that there are three kinds of responses when it comes to dealing with other people’s faults…

Response #1 – The Unconditional Love Response
This response is all about accepting people as they are, even while they are sinning, struggling and failing.

Response #2 – The Critical Response
This response is all about catching people doing the wrong thing. It’s about finding fault with others, without actually caring for others. Martin Luther explains that when Paul says “watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted”, he is not afraid that they’ll be tempted to commit the same sin as the people they are criticizing. Rather he’s concerned that they’ll be tempted to commit the sins of pride and judgementalism.

Response #3 – The Unconditional Love + Absolute Commitment Response
Martin Luther argues that this response should only be attempted by those who have practised and mastered ‘Response #1’. Or as Paul says “those who live by the spirit”.

This response is all about loving and accepting someone completely in the midst of their sin, struggles and failures. But loving them so much we commit ourselves fully to helping them move past their sin, struggles and failures.

If we don’t actually care about the person, and we’re not completely committed to their success, then we really have no right to criticize.

5. CAN THE PERSON I’M CRITICIZING ACTUALLY CHANGE?

There’s no point criticizing a people person for wanting to always be with people, or a details person for always wanting to get things right. This is how they’ve been designed. This is what God intended for them to do.

By all means, put support around them. Perhaps there might even be a time to help them find another role or job. But criticizing them if they can’t actually change is futile.

6. IS THIS BIBLICAL, OR IS THIS JUST MY OWN OPINION?

Charles Swindoll, in his book “The Grace Awakening“, explains how dangerous it is for Christians to project their list of rights and wrong upon others, especially when those rights and wrongs aren’t even in the Bible.

He explains: “People need to be informed and then released to come to their own convictions. Why must a minister constantly issue public edicts and decrees? Seems awfully popelike to me. Have we wandered that far from grace? You will never grow up as long as you must get your lists and form most of your opinions from me or some Christian leader. It is not my calling as a minister of the gospel to exploit a group of loyal listeners or dictate to everyone’s conscience. It is my responsibility to teach the truths of Scripture as accurately as I am able and to model as best I can a lifestyle that pleases God (regardless of whether it pleases others) and allow others the freedom to respond as God leads them”

7. AM I EMOTIONAL?

There are certainly times when our emotions should rightly drive our anger and criticism towards others. Jesus seemed pretty emotional when he drove the money changes out of the temple. But for the most part, it is far wiser to wait until we have calmed down.

Ideally, feelings would be kept out of criticism all together. The less personal the criticism is, the more likely the person is to actually hear the criticism and take it on board.

8. AM I HIDING BEHIND EMAIL OR A TEXT MESSAGE?

There are several reasons not to use text or email for anything negative…

A) MISCOMMUNICATION: You can’t read tone of voice. You can’t clarify any confusion without emailing back and forth several times. You can’t be sure that the person reading the message will be reading it at a time when they are completely focused on what is being said.

B) IT CAN BE FORWARDED ONTO OTHERS: There is nothing stopping the person you’re criticizing forwarding your email or text message onto others. If it’s written down and it’s critical, assume that the person receiving the criticism will vent to several people.

C) IT CAN BE KEPT: Unfortunately, many of us have a tendency to dwell on the negative. Someone might have said 100 nice things to us, and only ever sent one negative email, but it’s the negative email that we continue to look back on. It would be much better if we had a permanent record of all the positive things people said, while being allowed to forget the negative because it was only ever delivered to us verbally.

D) IT IS GUTLESS 

9. SHOULD I BE APPROACHING THIS PERSON PRIVATELY?

Unfortunately the daily news and social networking have made it very common for people to get criticized publicly. But all good leaders know, the key is to ‘Praise Publicly, Criticize Privately’.  

10. AM I THE RIGHT PERSON TO DO THE CRITICIZING?

If I’ve never been in leadership, am I really in a position to criticize a leader? If I don’t have a relationship with the person, am I really the best person to criticize that person? If I don’t live in their world, am I really the best person to criticize someone in their world?

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