22 June 2008

by Rod Benson

One of the best ways we can build healthy churches is to grow positive relationships. Here are seven tips for giving criticism, adapted from John Maxwell’s teaching:

Clarify your motive. The goal should be to help, not to humiliate. Three key questions will help expose your true motives. (1) Would I criticize if it were not a personal matter? (2) Will criticism make me look better? (3) Does this criticism bring pain or pleasure to me? If it’s painful, you’re probably safe in doing it.

Look at yourself before looking at others. Instead of putting others in their place, put yourself in their place. Have you successfully done what you’re accusing the other person of failing to do? You may be the one who needs to make changes.

Be specific. Say exactly what you mean and provide examples to back yourself up. If you can’t be specific, don’t confront. People can usually tell when you’re skirting an issue and will not respect you for it.

Be creative. Look beyond the problem and see if you can help them find some solutions. For most of us it’s much easier to be critical than creative. But unless you’re willing to help turn the situation around, you’re not ready to comment on the problem.

Attack the problem not the person. When a confrontation becomes a personal attack, you destroy your own credibility. The expected outcome of a confrontation should be that the offender leaves with a clear understanding of the problem and the hope that he or she can turn it around.

Confront when the time is right. If you wait too long you lose the opportunity moment and the issue becomes history. Timely intervention helps you keep the facts straight and use the incident as an opportunity help the person grow.

Begin and end confrontation with encouragement. Always sandwich criticism between praise at the beginning and encouragement at the end. To leave a discouraged person without hope is cruel and vindictive.

Rev Rod Benson is an ethicist and public theologian with the Tinsley Institute, an activity of Morling College, Sydney. For the original (longer) article, click here.