Healthy Leaders


How to Be a Critic People Love

David GoodmanDavid Goodman

It seemed I was everyone’s target all evening … and not a single shot missed. I was the chair of that planning committee-meeting-turned-nightmare many years ago. One member came to me privately after the meeting and bluntly told me I was blowing it because I was way too defensive. By then I was quite ready to start firing back, but I didn’t. Why? Because I had no doubt this man really cared for me. Not trying to win an argument or show me up, he, unlike any other person in the group, said this to me out of love.

I treasure my relationship with him because of what he told me that evening. Was it pleasant to receive his criticism? Not at all. But it was good … like swallowing the nastiest tasting medicine you can imagine, but a medicine which quiets your fever and gets you out of bed the next day.

When the Bible says “iron sharpens iron” (Prov. 27:17), this is not license to take your blade and start slashing everyone near you. Far from a sword fight, the image is that of taking two knives and using them to sharpen each other. Sure the metal gets hot and the sparks fly, but the result for both is desirable because the intent is constructive.

To be a critic people love, cultivate a group of critics around you ‒ people who are committed to you the way you are to them. People who are convinced you really want them to tell you the things you need to hear are the people who will also be able to hear your criticism of them when they most need it and love you for it.

The best critic is the not the one who is merely right, but rather the one who has earned the right to be heard in a way that changes things for the better. That only happens when the critic is someone you trust. Whom do you trust more than that one you are already convinced loves you?

In short, the way to be a critic people love is to love them convincingly before there’s a need to criticize.

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