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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Towards Effective Criticism

Do you get defensive easily? When do you take off your armor? What is your prized defense mechanism? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p. 526).

I become defensive and get easily offended when I sense the following transaction in process—I, viewed as an immature child, am the subject of scolding by an all-wise and all-knowing parent. And it seems this transaction is often in play when I am the subject of criticism. I then burn in resentment. Criticism that I can handle well always comes prefaced by qualifiers. For example, the person criticizing my behavior can say one of the following: “It's easy to draw that conclusion, but....” “A lot of people make that mistake, but....” “I've often done the same, but....” “I can see how you would draw that conclusion, but....” The effect of these statements is to ameliorate the offensive suggestion that my error was really due to gross immaturity and intentional irresponsibility – that the transaction in process is that of a perfect superior correcting a flawed inferior.

My prized defense mechanism when I know I have made a blunder is to take the offensive; that is, "The best defense is a good offense." If I take the initiative in revealing a blunder, then that shows I have perception and judgment – no one had to point out my blunder for me; it gives me a sense of being in control and independence – I am not being controlled by others; I have mastery over the tone of revelation – a positive one, not a negative tone of reprimand – I can use self-deprecating humor and a measure of winsome humility; despite the blunder, I nevertheless have insight and self-knowledge. In short, it is a far better situation to proactively confess one's own mistakes and not to have them subjected to the adverse scrutiny of others.

This has implications for my behavior as well when it's my turn to point out the foibles of others. I can use one of the qualifiers mentioned above – implying equality and not superiority. I stand ready to appreciate the self-deprecating humor of others when they admit one of their mistakes. This often invites reflection on my part that (along with many others) I have done similar things—or worse; and it arouses my appreciation that I am being given a model of how admission of blunders is done gracefully, humbly, and even humorously. Perhaps I can avoid like mistakes in the future, or at least upon doing them approached them in like manner. It is a joyful and encouraging situation when one is witness to others' self-knowledge. Whenever possible it is far preferable to allow room for self-criticism and self-knowledge and not to eagerly engage in unsolicited judgment and criticism. Inevitably such negative criticism suggests a stance of superiority and a measure of false pride, lack of sensitivity, and self-righteousness. The most effective criticism is almost always self-criticism. The most admirable skill is the adept ability to help this happen.

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