When You and the Critic are on the Same Page
There are two facts that I reserve for critics: 1) to never receive criticism from anyone who is not interested in my welfare and 2) critics interested in my success are my best friends. I think I see these and three powerful lessons for life and business in the story about a lawyer and a fishmonger. Paul was a lawyer, trained in the top schools and clerk for his nation’s Supreme Court, who became a church leader, going on to write most of its policies and procedures. Peter was part owner in a fishing business. Oddly, he became a church leader too eventually rising to become Paul's boss.
Both were short tempered, didn't countenance fools very easily, and worked tirelessly to accomplish their goals. Neither man was timid or tentative in their actions but always charged into an affair. Neither minced words choosing instead to speak clearly and powerfully regardless the offense. Both refused unjust criticism. Then one day Paul became a critic of Peter.
Paul described the confrontation in typical, hard-charging, no-words-minced fashion: “I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” The wonder of it is that Peter agreed with him; he had let some things slip.
I think there’s much to learn from the way these two national leaders handled criticism and maybe some lessons for us too. Here are three.
You Choose When to Receive Criticism
The simple truth is that we are not supposed to receive criticism from just anyone. Speaking into the life of another is a right requiring an investment of time, energy, and presence. Short of these, it doesn't exist. People who will not invest in you cannot speak to your higher purpose nor should you allow them.
Not Every Critic Speaks To Your Higher Purpose
It is vital to learn the difference between those who speak to your purpose and worth and those who speak to your job and performance. We have bosses and by virtue of their position give them permission to speak to our performance. But we do not allow them to speak to our worth. I quit a job when my manager crossed the line from criticizing my performance to judging my worth.
Criticism Produces Accountability
Being answerable for our actions only has meaning if we allow people to actually question those actions. And that’s where it gets messy because we don’t know the motive of those who ask the questions. What’s remarkable about Peter’s response is that he trusted Paul’s motive; he was willing to look beyond the cost to his prestige and agree with him.
Some Further Thought
If You Are a Leader/Manager:
• Understand that criticism is a needed tool. It's how you use it that determines its effectiveness. • Employees expect to be accountable and criticism is a means of it. Limit your words to the performance and not the person. • When applying criticism always make its focus the improvement of the person in their performance and its outcome. • Don't mix metaphors. If your intent is to criticize performance then do that; don't "soften" your criticism by beginning the conversation with praise.
If You Work Under a Leader/Manager
• Expect to be criticized. • Get very clear about the distinction between your person and your performance. • If the criticism feels directed toward your person, speak up. Bring clarity to the intention.