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It’s easy to pile praise on others if they are the least bit competent. Generally, our biggest impediment is just being too busy to notice the praiseworthy behavior or, when we notice it, to stop and laud it.
Criticism is another matter. Generally it’s difficult to criticize another — unless their behavior makes us angry.

And it’s especially difficult to constructively criticize — where not only do we offer the criticism in a healthy, helpful spirit, but the other accepts it in that spirit and uses it to grow and improve their performance.

Even when we mean well and can act from an extensive base of knowledge and experience, we have to confront the uncertainty of the outcome. It doesn’t matter whether the issue arises with our own child or with a top level executive in a multinational corporation. We don’t know how the other person will react to our criticism and so we don’t know if will do more harm than good.

Of course, some people don’t worry about that. They just state the problem and let the chips fall where they will. But it doesn’t take much thoughtless criticism to build a culture of timid compliance, where no one is willing to make any decisions or accept any responsibility, and everyone is focused on doing the minimum required to avoid more criticism. That’s not where you will find excellence.

But you won’t find it in procrastinating either. In fact if excellence is your goal, you want everyone to learn from everyone so that there is constant improvement. That means you want to foster a high trust environment where peers feel safe and free to constructively criticize one another — and when it is warranted, even their bosses.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, realized the importance of what he called "fraternal correction," but he also appreciated the importance of delivering it carefully to increase the likelihood that will be received constructively.

"It will help much if the corrector has some authority, or acts with great affection, an affection that can be recognized," he advised. To that end, he said "one’s admonition should not be too forthright, but toned down and presented without offense." He also noted that once a person has made a mistake, he or she is more inclined to defend it than "to accept even a well-intentioned correction (delivered) in the right spirit."

Not infrequently people need correction. But unless it is offered with affection and patience, it is not likely to generate the change it is intended to achieve — and it may well make matters worse.

Adapted and used with permission from Take Five: On-the-Job Meditations with St. Ignatius by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Kris D. Stubna, Copyright © by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute, 208 E. North St., Durand, IL 61024. Any part of this newsletter may be reproduced so long as there is full attribution, our web site is listed, and any electronic reproduction includes a link to our site: http://www.yeshualeader.com.

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