Speak to Help, Not to Hurt
I almost spoke but didn’t—and was glad of it. My words weren’t helpful, noble, or persuasive. Only critical. As Dale Carnegie once said, any fool can criticize. I didn’t want to be another fool; several others were already present.
Serving up one-and-done criticism is the easy stuff of fools. Criticism delivered from a detached distance and couple with a lack of concern for those who may be hurt, belittled, or marginalized is safe and effortless.
Criticism is, at its core, disapproval based on perceived mistakes or faults. Ways of expressing that disapproval can be either constructive or destructive. If there’s intent to aid in improving those mistakes or faults, because they’re really mistakes or faults and not merely biases, then lots of work comes after speaking. Criticizing is but the first step in what should be a process. My experience has been that it’s the rare person who’s willing to invest in the whole process. You?
He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help. ~Abraham Lincoln
Parents, teachers, bosses, and others remind us to be mindful of what we say and how we say it. In the spirit of being our best possible selves, shouldn’t that advice be expanded to include thinking about why we say what we say—before we say it?
A few seconds spent examining our motives—am I speaking constructively in pursuit of solving a problem or am I speaking to prove my superiority—can make a dramatic difference in whether outcomes and relationships take a positive or negative turn
Had I spoken that day, my comments would have joined similar useless words full of judgment and short on constructive feedback or persuasive reasoning.
To belittle, you have to be little. ~Khalil Gibran
Instead of serving a meaningful purpose, criticism can easily lapse into self-serving swagger and become destructive. Hurtful criticism leads to contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling, and polarization—all downward spirals of activity that fail to advance the greater good and further drive people apart.
Google the word criticism and hundreds of entries appear that offer advice on how to handle being harshly or unfairly criticized. Perhaps, if people paid a little more attention to the “why” of their words, the number of articles would decrease because there’d be more compassion and less conflict in our interactions.
People seldom refuse help if one offers it in the right way. ~A.C. Benson
The next time criticism dances on your lips, begging to be spoken, pause and examine your motivation. Explore your purpose for speaking by asking yourself some questions.
Ask, am I criticizing because…
- I want to make someone look bad so I can look good?
- I think I deserve special treatment and I’m not getting it?
- I see a way to amplify my own achievements and social standing?
- I see an opportunity to devalue something or someone I disagree with?
- I want to gain power and control to humiliate someone into submission?
- I see the chance to advance my personal agenda?
- I enjoy pointing out what’s wrong and who’s to blame?
Criticizing for any of these reasons speaks volumes about someone’s character.
Criticism is the only reliable form of autobiography. ~Oscar Wilde
Sharing alternate points of view often produces better results, so don’t hold back. Being authentic, though, isn’t a license to be rude, hurtful, condescending, or manipulative. Disapproval about perceived mistakes or faults can be expressed without judgment, without personal attacks, and without mean-spirited nitpicking.
The next time you express your disapproval based on perceived mistakes or faults, be kind. Display a willingness to help. Think bigger than yourself.
If the only reason you’re criticizing is to make yourself look better, just shut up.