When giving criticism, focus on the form. When receiving, focus on the message.

When giving criticism, focus on the form. When receiving, focus on the message.

That’s the little maxim I’ve had rolling around my head for the past few weeks. Here’s what I mean:

When giving criticism, focus on the form. Sometimes it is necessary to pass along constructive criticism, correction, or even rebuke. Assuming your motives are pure, your message is true, and it’s really necessary to give the critique, you need to focus on the form of your critique. Give it with love. Include affirmations where they are appropriate. Be discrete and private when possible. Ensure you have the trust and social capital to offer the correction. You may need to speak the truth, but be sure to speak it in love.

When receiving criticism, focus on the message. Sometimes we need to receive criticism but we don’t have the luxury of choosing what form that criticism comes in. We simply can’t control how other people act. I’ve witnessed people receive criticism that was true and that they needed to hear but since it was packaged in a poor form, the criticism was ignored. An exchange that could have been constructive wound up being destructive. When receiving criticism, it is important that we get past the form and try to discern the underlying message. Ask yourself the question “Is any part of this criticism correct?” If so, even if you hate the way the correction was given, you can still take the message to heart and make the necessary adjustment. If someone’s criticism of you is correct, don’t excuse yourself from change because their form was less than ideal.

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