“You need to control yourself!”
“You’re screwing up!”
“People in our family don’t do that!”
All parents say stuff like this and it’s usually well-intended. We want our children and grandchildren to grow up to be good people. We also want our spouses to see ‘the error of their ways’ and our employees to do better. But criticism, the way most of us do it, ends up being destructive. Yes, destructive! More on that in a minute . . . first let’s be clear about the words.
There’s a huge difference between correction and criticism. The word “criticize” isn’t found in the Bible. In fact, most of the verses about criticism use the words “correction,” “reproof,” “discipline” and “instruction.” Verses like Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” And Matthew 18:15: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Over and over, the Word warns us about being harsh, stirring up anger, and judging people. Over and over, Jesus tells us to be edifying and uplifting.
That’s what I want to get at with this post. Criticism is “the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.” The disapproval of someone. That’s the problem! As parents, mentors and leaders, we need to disapprove of sinful behavior but not of sinful people. It takes patience and care to correct the behavior without criticizing the person. One of my all-time favorite books on this is The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. My big takeaway was a simple four-step process for correcting. Here’s my paraphrased and edited version:
- In private, with eye contact, describe what you observed to the ‘offender.’ No value judgements, no criticism. Just the facts.
- Explain what you expected and how their behavior ‘missed the mark.’
- Tell them (or have them tell you) clearly what you expect them to do next time.
- End the conversation by saying something good about the person . . . about their character or their effort. Leave them with something good said about who they are, even though you just corrected something they did. If appropriate, give them a little physical affirmation, a squeeze on the arm, a pat on the back or a handshake.
I’m afraid many parents today are messing up on this. In the hurry of life, they’re criticizing instead of correcting. Over time, that will lead to low self-esteem, which is a curse that haunts throughout life. It shows up as defensiveness, perfectionism and depression. Other parents are so into positivity and so want their children to be happy, their kids rarely receive correction. Over time, that will lead to entitlement, arrogance, a critical spirit, and ultimately, to low self-esteem.
Correct, don’t criticize.
Scripture: To get a ‘feel’ for how God teaches us to correct, check out this list 37 verses about correction among believers.
Mentor Tip: Avoid the subtle temptation to ignore the ‘un-Jesus-like’ behavior or thinking of a mentee. It may well be that no one else will ever have the opportunity to confront and correct that you have. Remember the words of the covenant you both signed. “I agree to receive direct feedback.”
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