As we go through life, one of the constants seems to be criticism. I'm sure that everyone has been the recipient of criticism and has more than likely been critical of others. I have been criticized on many occasions and have myself been critical of others, but recently I have had some experiences that made me stop and think about the impact of criticism, and it’s opposites, affirmation, approval, and encouragement.
As I was installing a windshield, I received a phone call from an acquaintance whom I hadn’t spoken to for quite some time. “I just wanted to call,” he said, “and tell you how much I appreciated this week’s column. I enjoyed the story,” he continued, “and I get the message.” The call lifted my spirits. As a writer, it’s nice to know that someone read my article and it was meaningful to them.
A few days later I met someone in Wal-Mart. She said, “I have appreciated the columns you have been writing recently. I like the personal stories.” I think that we are so used to criticism and negativity that when someone gives us some affirmation and encouragement, it takes us by surprise. Most of us aren’t accustomed to hearing encouraging words. We are more used to hearing criticism.
Today, while I was at James Super Save Foods, a customer came up to me and told me how happy they were with the windshield repair I had done on their convertible. I was surprised. That is not the kind of thing that normally happens. Anyone in business is aware that a satisfied customer seldom lets you know that he is satisfied, but a dissatisfied customer will tell you that he is unhappy.
Research has shown that to neutralize the emotional impact of criticism; one must affirm five times. According to Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, writing in the Harvard Business Review, “even the most well-intentioned criticism can rupture relationships and undermine self-confidence and initiative. It can change behavior, certainly, but it doesn’t cause people to put forth their best efforts. Only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigor, determination, and creativity. Perhaps that’s why we have found with the vast majority of the leaders; positive feedback is what motivates them to continue improvement.”
Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV), "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Elizabeth Harrison, a pioneer in early childhood education in America stated, "Those who are lifting the world upward and onward are those who encourage more than criticize.” Are you encouraging those around you or are you criticizing?
When I was in grade school, I often heard the childhood rhyme, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." That statement is not true. In fact, words may not break our bones, but they certainly can damage our spirits. In Proverbs 12:18 (CEV) the Bible tells us, “Sharp words cut like a sword, but words of wisdom heal.”
Ephesians 4:29 (NOG) says, "Don’t say anything that would hurt another person. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed. That way, what you say will help those who hear you.” If we want to help someone we need to encourage them, not criticize them.
I recently ran across a story written by Kathy Schultz. She wrote, "pink is my granddaughter's favorite color. She had been telling me this since she first discovered colors. The other night as she chatted away, she added that yellow was another one of her favorite colors."
Kathy went on to explain why her granddaughter had added yellow as a favorite color. She said that when she asked about the new favorite color, her granddaughter began by telling her that when she went to music class, Mrs. Cooke, the music teacher told her she was a bright yellow crayon, bright as the sun.
Colossians 3:12 (ISV) tells us, “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” If we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, we will be perfectly equipped to be an encouragement to others. We will not have a critical spirit.
P.S. After this column was written I arrived at work on Monday morning to find this Post-It Note on my door. That is a great way to start a Monday!