When people are working together in a common mission, disagreements are unavoidable. Yet what is avoidable is for those disagreements to disintegrate into hostility. A good dose of humility goes a long way, reminding us that we can always learn from one another.
Likewise helpful are the following tips I’ve developed over the years to guide us when we have criticisms of other leaders or groups. To be constructive rather than destructive, criticism has a number of characteristics, among which are the following:
- Informed. Constructive criticism is informed about the matter on which it comments, about the procedures that are already in place that may influence the very matters under consideration, and about the factors that may account for the way things are. A criticism that suggests something be done when the item suggested is already part of established procedures needs to be better informed.
- Loyal. Constructive criticism takes place in a context of loyalty to those who have been entrusted with the responsibility to carry out the suggestions being made, always looking to work side by side with them and to encourage them in their leadership. It is always communicated with the utmost respect.
- Descriptive. Constructive criticism is fonder of nouns than adjectives. It specifically describes the issue at hand rather than issuing vague judgments that are not connected to actual facts and circumstances. It is descriptive rather than evaluative. Constructive criticism gives historical examples of the behavior or events that need to be corrected, without simply saying things are “bad” or “seriously wrong.” Adjectives without examples simply cause alarm and discouragement without giving people anything concrete to correct.
- Targeted. Constructive criticism is communicated only to those who need to hear it – no more, no less. It is not broadcast in an indiscriminate way or conveyed to those who are not responsible for making the correction, or to those who may in fact use the information in a negative way.
- Constructive. Needless to say, constructive criticism is constructive, that is, it specifies suggested changes that might improve the situation. Moreover, the person making such suggestions offers assistance in being part of the solution, not just in pointing out the problem. Constructive criticism provides some tools and raw materials that can be used to “construct” better solutions.
- Disciplined. Constructive criticism is disciplined. It does not simply vent emotion; it does not exaggerate; it does not engage in any kind of attacks, vengeance, or ridicule. The one who gives constructive criticism has enough discipline to wait until the proper time and place to voice it, and voices it with self-control rather than just out of the need to say it.
- Charitable. Constructive criticism is charitable; it always gives the best reasonable interpretation in thought and speech to others’ behavior and to events that occur, and is ready to accept the best possible interpretation once it is explained by others. Moreover, when offered, the constructive criticism is quick to praise the good, and is sensitive enough not to cast down the hearers.
- Mission-driven. Constructive criticism is not motivated by any selfish desire to appear better than others, or to gain anything at all for oneself. Rather, the criticism is offered for the benefit of the mission in which one collaborates and for which the constructive suggestions are offered. Finally, it never loses sight of the positive dimensions of what is going on and keeps a proper sense of balance.
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As we enter into the celebration of Christmas, and prepare to begin a New Year, may we resolve to make all our criticisms constructive, for the good of the great movement we serve.