“Can I just give you some constructive criticism?”
You’ve heard that, you’ve probably said it. But the truth is, constructive criticism doesn’t exist!
Giving hard feedback is hard. When it falls on us to be the ones to tell someone they’ve not met the mark in some way, it’s not a pleasant feeling. We anticipate the disappointment or even defensiveness of the receiver and we reach for language that in some way might soften the blow.
These words are opposites of one another. To be constructive is to seek to build up, but criticism is the act of review for the purpose of finding fault (read : to tear down). Critique is a more neutral or positive word but it is different to criticism.
In fact, science tells us that the use of this phrase confuses the brain of the receiver. When you say “I have some constructive criticism for you”, the brain of the listener is conflicted – constructive or critical? Friend of foe? Safety or threat? So, the body’s systems elevate to process the confusion of what is happening in their brains. As you can imagine, this does not create the most receptive environment for whatever challenging conversation might follow.
Ultimately, the phrase “constructive criticism” is used to make ourselves, the giver of the feedback, feel better. Like somehow in framing our thoughts as constructive criticism we might more adequately prepare the receiver for a difficult conversation. Perhaps in that phrase is an attempt to communicate to the receiver that we are sensitive to the potential wounding or disappointment our words might carry.
It might seem semantic to make a big deal of such a nuance. But a healthy feedback culture is built on relational trust and emotional safety. For feedback to be beneficial and edifying it must happen in the best possible context – where anything that might impede the productivity of such a conversation is sought to be removed. (Don’t do it when they/you are tired or rushed. Don’t do it publicly. Don’t do it when emotions are elevated. Etc) This simple nuance of language might achieve two outcomes. Firstly, not adding psychological confusion to the other thought processes required in a feedback interaction. And secondly, forcing us as givers of feedback to be more considered in our approach, not excusing ourselves from doing the work to find better language and deliver feedback in the most helpful way.
In 1996, the “New Choluteca Bridge” (also known as the Bridge of the Rising Sun as a nod to the Japanese company that designed and constructed it) was built and in 1998 it opened for use in Choluteca, Honduras.
In October of 1998, Hurricane Mitch hit the region causing widespread flooding and devastation. The rising waters took out the access roads either side of the bridge but the bridge remained intact. However, when the flooding subsided it became evident that the river had carved a new path.
They were left with a bridge in near perfect condition that no longer had a function. The roads had disappeared and the river had moved!
I wonder if this isn’t a powerful metaphor for the era we have been (and are still) navigating. A season of incredible change and disruption to the usual flow of work, ministry, and life in unpredicted and varied ways. Although we would be right in hesitating to say that the hurricane has passed and the flood waters have completely receded, we are finding ourselves somewhat on the other side and facing a very changed landscape.
The river has moved!
WHERE IS YOUR RIVER?
It behoves us all, as individuals, families, leaderships and organisations to step back and do some assessing. Where is your river? Has it moved? Where was it? Where is it going now? What of the impact on the surrounding landscape? (I’m told the old river bed would likely now be considered more of a wetland rather than dry land or the usual terrain of river banks.) Where is the high land, the dry land, the firm land? What got washed away in the flood? What is now at the bottom of the newly directed river?
What has changed?
Working with a colleague recently he remarked “2022 won’t just be the 2020 we planned to have”. As we open up and return to some sort of new normal, in our rush to “go back” we can be deceived into thinking that we’ve just been on pause these past months and everything is waiting where it was when we left it. It’s not true. Many things have changed. You have changed, the community has changed (eg, we know differently about what matters to people in society), our engagement with technology has altered, our habits and routines have radically changed, our elderly may have aged inordinately during this time, the socialisation and development of our young people has been disrupted, social confidence has shifted, new patterns of behaviour have emerged (hello church in your jarmies!!!), your staff team might have shifted working hours and onsite routines, and I could go on indefinitely. No doubt you could add to this list from your own experience. Things have changed. It’s important we identify and appropriately acknowledge that reality. We’ll need to grieve some losses and face some truths. Pretending or hoping the river is still the same will get us nowhere.
WHAT’S THE STATE OF THE BRIDGE?
In the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, the bridge was determined to be almost completely unaffected. Were there still roads accessing it, engineers would have had no problem declaring it fit for traffic. There’s nothing wrong with the bridge, other than the glaring reality that it’s not “bridging” anything anymore! It serves no purpose. Great bridge. Excellent feat of construction. And now obsolete.
In recognising the changes that have taken place in your world it’s inevitable that some of your systems and processes are no longer fit for purpose. Before we jump to defending them, remember, there was nothing wrong with the bridge – it just didn’t have a river under it anymore. We don’t have to disagree with previous practices, we don’t have to ‘backflip’ or contradict ourselves, we don’t need to undermine our credibility or integrity, we don’t have to criticise or pick apart past methods – we purely need to acknowledge that the landscape is different and ask what it requires of us.
What does a new river path require of us?
Could we relocate the bridge? Do our previous systems still work they just need to shift over a bit? Or do we need a new kind of bridge for new conditions?
Can we apply the same principles of design that were used for the old bridge? Or do we need to explore new engineering, new types of footings, new construction methods, different materials?
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?
If things have shifted, as we know they have for everyone to some degree, and the old structures, old ways, old thinking aren’t going to cut it for moving forward into the future. What do we need to do?
Business leadership author, Marshall Goldsmith, puts it this way in the title of his book “What got you here won’t get you there.” New horizons, new frontiers, new experiences require new methodology, thinking and practice. What has served you in the past may not serve you so well in the future. If the ways you – or WE if we’re thinking more corporately or collectively – have been thinking, acting, believing, preparing and functioning were attached to the ‘old way’ of life then those behaviours and attitudes might need adjusting.
How has the ‘river moved’ in your life, family, organisation, work, or ministry? What might you need to do differently as a result?
Feedback is an essential component to personal and organisational growth and success. In part one – let me give you some feedback – we looked at how feedback helps answer the question “How am I experienced by others?” and is essential for improvement, self-awareness and for nurturing an environment of high encouragement and trust.
INVITED feedback is always best.
If you’re askingfor feedback you are already in a better posture to receive it than if it was offered unsolicited. You’re somewhat in control of the timing, the circumstance and the framework of the feedback. Inviting feedback also serves the person giving the feedback. If they don’t have to find a way to raise a difficult topic with you or overcome any barriers to delivering encouragement they have emotional energy free to direct in to giving helpful feedback.
When you’re intentionally seeking out feedback for growth, choose people who are FOR you and are onboard with the purpose of your work or with the direction of your character development. Choose people whose wisdom and honesty you can trust and rely on. And those who are willing to journey alongside you rather than just ‘dump and run’.
In some situations it might be most beneficial to ask someone who is well-educated or experienced in the area you’re looking for feedback to inform their reflections. Other times, you might be looking for the observations of people who aren’t as involved or aware to get a more clear ‘outsider’ perspective. Choose appropriately.
Ask a LEADER.
Leaders have opinions on everything!
The nature of leadership is that they are actively engaged in making things better. They’re constantly reflecting on best practice and looking for the best way to lead others towards great outcomes and what is most likely to cause people and organisations to flourish.
Be SPECIFIC about what you want reviewed.
Particularly if you’re in the early stages of actively receiving feedback (or the person you’re asking is in the early stages of giving it) narrowing the focus of review can be beneficial and provides a softer entry. Specific questions or a more narrow field of focus eliminates the distraction of the irrelevant.
Identify your own INSECURITIES.
What am I afraid to ask and why am I afraid to ask it?
Previous experiences of failure, doubts about our own abilities, and just our general desire to succeed and be approved of shape our attitude towards feedback. Often, it makes us fearful of any kind of review because we don’t want our negative internal dialogue to be given an ‘outside’ voice. Identify that with the person who is reviewing with you. In doing this you empower them to be gentle with you and to stand with you against your fears and insecurities, and in bringing those into the light they can be somewhat diffused.
If you’re looking to shape a healthier culture of feedback in your relationships, families, teams or organisations you need to model what it is that you are wanting others to value.
Leaders go first.
The temptation to go first in GIVING feedback must give way to modelling the RECEIVING of feedback.
We’ve all heard the adage “There’s no ‘I’ in team!” – but there can sometimes be a lot of “I” in leadership! (And I mean more than just the little one that is the second last letter!)
Of course, leadership by definition is often an individual or solo task. It’s the act of being ‘out in front’; the front bird in the geese formation, the pointy end of the arrow, the cutting edge, the trailblazer, the pioneer – all of these aspects of leadership are true and right. But more often than not, we find that our leadership plays out in teams and groups. There’s limited value in being the trailblazer if no one is actually then walking on that trail – and if you’re flying out the front of the geese formation and there’s no one else in the geese formation? You know what that makes you? That’s right, a goose!
The purpose of leadership is to take others somewhere they wouldn’t otherwise go. It’s to see things that are not yet and paint a picture in the imagination of others to inspire them towards future possibilities. It’s to champion gifts, skills and capacity in people that they might otherwise not have known they possessed and to lead them into actions, thought and influence that they might otherwise not have explored or experienced.
How we speak as leaders shapes the culture of our teams and contexts.
Here are some things that can happen when we use “we” instead of “I“.
We draw people in to realising their part in a broader movement; a greater purpose. We reinforce a culture of collaboration and team work. We allow others to feel part of activity and outcomes that they may not have even had direct involvement in. It generates energy and excitement around the bigger picture and grander vision.
We indicate that we’ve included other voices in our thought processes and decision making. It may be our spouse, parent or friend (as opposed to someone within our organisation or team) but it demonstrates a willingness to listen to other opinions and allow accountability to external input to refine and shape our actions.
We demonstrate the humility to share successes (that might actually be wholly ours) with our team. The idea might have been ours, the hours of preparation might have been ours, dealing with the obstacles and opposition might have been ours, but the win is the team’s. We also communicate an expectation of humility in others.
We create a culture that handles failure in healthy ways. When we communicate a loss in the language of ‘we’, we show our teams that they can explore, innovate and experiment with confidence because we will all share in the loss. They don’t need to fear public correction or embarrassment. Review and recovery will be handled in a shared and sensitive way.
We keep a separation between policy, processes and decisions, and people and emotions. The language of ‘we’ draws on a corporate code; our agreed methods of working and interacting. It reminds others of the decisions we’ve made as an organisation that are guiding our choices rather than making it about personality.
We reduce the need for personal defensiveness – from ourselves and the team member. This is not me against you. No one is fighting for themselves in this conflict, process or project – we are on the same team.
It’s really important to note – this is not about deflecting personal responsibility when the responsibility is ours. It’s not an ‘out’ for taking ownership of decisions that are difficult for others to process or avoiding ownership of personal mistakes and shortfall. “I” is also necessary sometimes. But our tendency towards that language first can be unnecessarily distancing, hierarchical, and contrary to building healthy team culture.
It’s a question often wrestled with by parents and leaders, when is the right time to talk to kids about sex?
The answer is simple.
The right time to talk to your kids about sex is just before they hear it from someone or somewhere else.
That might not be the answer you were hoping for. In fact, that probably opens up more questions than anything. How can you know when they’re going to be exposed to content on television, scribbled on a bathroom wall, stumbled across on a computer or device, conspiratorially whispered about amongst friends at a sleep over, or joked about in a locker room? It seems impossible to predict, and therefore difficult to pre-empt, but it is undeniably the ‘best time’.
The power of first exposure.
Our brains are wired to attach knowledge about a subject to the person who first introduced it to us in an informative or useful way. So, whoever first exposes us to information is solidified, subconsciously, in our minds as the expert on that topic. We are far more likely to return to that source if we find ourselves needing more details or, if we get data from an alternate source, we are likely to come back to the original source to verify or test it.
What an incredible opportunity that presents as parents or people of influence in the lives of young people. If they are introduced to concepts of sexual biology, reproduction, arousal, intimacy, consent, masturbation, boundaries, gender, safety, identity and responsibility by you, they are more likely to see you as a source of useful information and understanding on these topics. How much more preferable is it that YOU be in this position of influence than a child’s school friends, bus pals or anything that might spew out of a television or smart phone?
This doesn’t completely address the question of timing, but I believe it ought to create a sense of urgency and boldness driven by the value of equipping our young people to adequately navigate their own sexuality, understanding and expression in a highly sexualised culture.
“I don’t want to talk to my children too early because I don’t want to introduce them to concepts before they need to be … and I don’t want to arouse their curiosity, which might lead them to further (potentially unhelpful) exploration.”
This is a hybrid of commonly expressed concerns by parents when wrestling with decisions around timing.
The myth of early exposure.
It goes without saying (which generally means it needs to be said!) that when we reference ‘early’ conversations (as in, prior to when they might otherwise be exposed) those need to happen in age appropriate and ongoing ways.
It’s not just ‘the talk’ it’s a lot of talks. It’s a continuing conversation. Any thoughts you have, as a parent or leader, of having one conversation that articulately (and in completely non-awkward ways) covers all of the necessary topics and concepts your child needs to successfully land them in sexually educated, adjusted and healthy adulthood need to be banquished! Sorry! 😉
In light of this, any topics you broach ought to be couched in language and cover information that is able to be helpfully processed and absorbed by the individual child. It will be different at every stage of development, but it will most likely be different from child to child. Their level of maturity, sensitivity, social awareness, personal experiences, personality and intellect will all impact what they need to know and what they are able to absorb.
You need to talk about everything in order to be able to talk about anything. Developing a relationship of open dialogue with your child (about Minecraft and puppies and football teams and complicated school/friendship dramas and …) will grow their confidence that you are someone they can trust to handle conversations about particularly uncomfortable or uncertain topics.
Ask your child to ask questions – and then ask more questions. “What do YOU want to know? What do you understand and what more can we learn about together?” Respond to only the questions that are asked and check understanding as you go. “Does that make sense? Does that settle what you were thinking about?”
Capitalise on ‘teachable moments’. Interact with books they’re reading or things they see on television – “Why do you think she/he reacted like that?” If your child says or does something that indicates a wrong understanding (like the Gr 5 child wrestling with a peer in the playground I overheard exclaiming “stop it, or you’ll catch puberty!”) or an awareness or exposure to something – speak to it, ask about it, clarify it.
Act normal! Even if you don’t feel normal, ACT IT! It is counterproductive to try and explain the ‘naturalness’ of sexuality and intimacy while you stumble over words, don’t look anyone in the eye and scurry off as soon as there’s the slightest break in conversation. So …
Practice! Practice what you might say, what words you might use, how you might describe certain acts, attributes or attitudes. Read articles or listen to speakers who can help you develop your language – it will help your child as well as increasing your confidence.
The myth of aroused curiosity.
Curiosity only exists in a void. It’s true, right? You are only curious about what you don’t know. Speaking about pornography or masturbation isn’t a guarantee that your child is going to go off and explore that more for themselves. They are far more likely to if there’s a gap in their understanding. If they haven’t asked the questions that they still have or if they haven’t fully understood what you’ve explained.
Ask comprehension questions “Can you tell me in your own words what I just explained?”.
Encourage active listening “Nod at me if you are following but stop me if I’ve said something that was a bit weird or confusing.”
Plan a follow up chat. “That seems like enough for now. How about we check in later once you’ve had a chance to process that some more?”
Monitor your child. If they have been disturbed or discomforted by what they’ve heard you might notice that in their behaviour, body language or responses.
What do you think? What have you found helpful or unhelpful in your own experience? What further information or discussion do you require to help you keep this conversation going (or to start it!)?
Being a mentor is one of the more privileged, rewarding, and challenging things you can do! If you’re not one, here’s a few reasons I think you should consider it.
Because it’s not all about you!
Whatever you know, have or experience is not just about or for you. It never is. Everything that you learn in your life, the skills you possess, the talents you develop, the capacity you have is never about you learning, possessing, or developing so much as it is about the IMPACT those acquisitions can have on the world around you.
To be a mentor is to realise that you have something to give. And you do!
Being a mentor is an acknowledgement that the wisdom you’ve acquired over the years is most wisely applied in the developing of other people’s wisdom! Even if you’ve earned it through a series of terrible decisions and catastrophic failures, your wisdom can be of benefit to those who are coming behind you. Even if you don’t think you’re particularly wise, you’re probably wiser than someone … in something … and it is upon us all to see that we don’t just hoard and protect what we know but that we use it in service of others.
Because it has redemptive power.
Your most disastrous mistake. Your most embarrassing failure. Your deepest wounding. Your greatest regret. These can all find a sense of redemption when allowed to be used to protect, prepare or comfort others.
Whether your story becomes one of warning and caution, one of inspiration and conviction or one of empathy and understanding … there will be something for others to glean from it and so it needs to be shared. And although it doesn’t erase the consequences, pain, guilt or regret it ensures that those feelings aren’t wasted. It brings something of purpose and usefulness out of experiences that would otherwise seem so wasteful and hopeless.
Would I rather not have experienced a broken marriage, grief, or failure? Absolutely! But if it’s happened, would I rather see the learning and the sharing bring life, hope, and wisdom to others? You bet!
Because you know it’s hard to ‘go it alone’.
You may never have had a mentor. You may have constantly craved that intentional investment and support or you might not even realised you were missing it. But I think we can all acknowledge that sometimes life is difficult and often times we are left to navigate life on our own.
New parents, young entrepreneurs, students, newly weds, first time home owners, emerging artists, writers and communicators can all feel like they’re stumbling in the dark – trying to work out how to conduct themselves in an industry or lifestage where everyone else seems to know what they’re doing but them. It can be intensely isolating.
You remember that. You can be part of breaking that pattern for those who are coming after you.
So, what do you think? Who could you be mentoring? What environments could you connect into where your wisdom and experience can be beneficially shared? What relationships could you be fostering to bring some of these mentoring outcomes to the fore?
(And just a little something for nothing … the reality is that you ARE leading, modelling and influencing whether you choose to or not. People are watching you and imitating you. A little more intentionality could help ensure that influence is positive and helpful.)
I don’t want to overstate this but audio reading changed my life!
It first started when I discovered that, with the tap of a button, a charming little man would read the Bible to me via the YouVersion Bible app on my phone! Brilliant! He reads while I brush my teeth. I can interact with him – repeating phrases out loud to gain meaning for this external-processing brain of mine. He even knows how to say all those tricky Hebrew names (some of them make me giggle and I mock him as he says them).
Then I got onto Audio books. As a long time subscriber to numerous podcasts I’ve been an in-car listener for a while but with the help of the Audible app I was able to get to those books that I’d been meaning to read one day.
Here are 3 reasons I think audio reading is a tool worth considering, if you haven’t already.
You can redeem your time
Audio reading can transform your daily exercise, getting ready for work or bed, commuting time (or any other activity that doesn’t require you to speak or listen) into productive ‘reading’ time. I listen to my daily Bible readings while putting a load of washing on or walking to the shops for milk.
I have ‘read’ 3 books in the last month. Something I would never find the time to do (outside of a holiday) but the audio reading has turned otherwise non-reading times into reading times. (I also read at 1.25 or 1.5x normal speed – because I like the thrill of it!)
It’s called working smarter not harder.
It is super portable
Given the ability to host audio reading on your smart phones it means it’s with you everywhere. In an unexpected delay, wait time or slice of quiet when you might have wished you’d been more prepared with something to do – voila! There it is, ready and waiting!
Thank you technology, you’re lovely. So handy.
Great leaders are readers
John Maxwell says it, “Leaders are readers“. People growing in their capacity to lead themselves and others are those who draw from wisdom and research, from the expert and experienced to broaden their own knowledge and understanding.
If you’re like me, you might find it hard to prioritise work time to read. Or to find joy or engagement in the silent practice of reading (I’m a well-documented raging extrovert – silent reading was my least favourite time at school even though literature and language were my strength subjects) – particularly for learning (I find novel reading can draw me in a little more effectively than non-fiction).
Audio books might just save your mind from inevitable decline by gaining the learning and developmental stretch that all good leaders ought to be pursuing.
What about you? What has your experience been with audio reading? Do you find it a help or hinderance to your reading disciplines?