Criticism is Encouraging When It Is Constructive

Criticism is Encouraging When It Is Constructive


Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection, and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.

My soul will rejoice when your lips speak what is right. Proverbs 23:16

No one likes criticism, and the reason is probably that most criticism is destructive, rather than constructive. It focuses on what a person did wrong, rather than what they did right. And the net effect is that it criticism usually tears someone down rather than building them up.

Many of us have had the experience of not making something we tried out for—maybe it was a sports team, or a part in the school play or a choral group, or something else. If the coach/teacher only said “Well, you didn’t make it because you are just not good enough,” that would be very discouraging, because there is nothing to build on, and a comment like that doesn’t really instill much hope for future success. A better way to deliver this kind of “bad news” would be if they said, “If you do this and this, you’d improve your chances.” This is both constructive and hopeful.

We have to be critical at times with people and situations that might disappoint us. Yelling at your child who is about to touch a hot stove or cross a street without looking first is necessary because yelling carries a great sense of urgency which is exactly what you want when your child is about to do something dangerous. However, when the danger has passed, making a secondary statement like “I love you so much and I don’t want to see you get hurt, that’s why I yelled,” adds something constructive and encouraging to a moment of anger which might make a child feel hurt or embarrassed.

When a co-worker does something wrong at work, it’s not enough to tell them they did only what they did wrong. That can be demeaning and embarrassing even if it’s warranted. And a string of criticisms will ruin a working relationship. A consistently critical boss is bad for company morale. A more effective strategy would be to tell a co-worker what to do differently next time, and also saying something affirming like “I’m glad we work together.” Try to avoid comments that are belittling and demeaning.

Let’s say that you are driving in a car and the driver is going too fast. You pipe up and say “Slow down, you are driving too fast.” The driver answers, “No, I’m not.” And then you respond “Yes, you are.” “No, I’m not.” “Yes, you are.” As you can see, in very quick order you will be getting nowhere. The driver will think you think he is a bad driver and of course is going to fight on this. Your criticism (warranted or not) is met with contempt, rather than correction.

A better way to get someone to slow down if they are driving too fast is to say “Would you mind slowing down, I’m a little nervous.” The driver can’t say “no, you are not” because who can possibly argue with the feelings of someone else. In this case, the driver can slow down and not feel demeaned. The passenger will be successful in getting the car to slow down without putting friction between themselves and the driver, in fact, if anything, the passenger indicated the problem is more with the passenger being nervous than the out of control driver. Everyone wins—the passenger feels safer; the driver doesn’t have his or her ego destroyed.

We all do things wrong, just as we all have things done wrong to us. I’m not sure if there is anyone who likes harsh criticism. I think we all prefer to receive criticism that is constructive, and that is couched in encouragement rather than in destruction. When pointing out things that someone has done wrong, it is important to point out the things they did right, so that there is not only something to avoid (the wrong) but something to build on (that which is right).

Going back to the 5:1 ratio of encouragement to discouragement, when we must be critical, we must intentionally balance criticism with encouragement, because people are more effective when they feel encouraged and hopeful rather than discouraged and torn down. Again, criticism is warranted in many situations. However, the way we criticize is important.

If we are supposed to do unto others as we would like to have done to us, criticize others in the way you’d want others to criticize you. No one likes to be stung or demeaned with criticism, so criticize without being destructive.

Lord, thank You for all of Your blessings. Please bless me with patience today. Help me to see the good in people. Help me in situations when I need to correct someone, to do so with kindness, with patience and in a constructive way. When I do wrong, help me to accept criticism with patience. Kindle the hearts of those around me so that they may also have patience with my shortcomings. Help me to learn from mistakes, and help me to bring encouragement even in situations when someone has done something wrong to me. Amen.

Criticism can be encouraged when it is constructive, rather than destructive. Focus on being constructive when criticism is warranted. And couch criticism with encouragement.

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The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.


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About author

Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “ and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”