Criticism and Empathy

13 06 2012

Last August, I was given the opportunity to change positions within my company.  I accepted, welcoming the chance for advancement as well the challenge of learning a new skill set.  I’ve been at this new task about ten months now.

I work in Information Technology.  IT is a field that is characterized by regular innovation and obsolescence, multiple problem-solving opportunities and, if done well, precision.  I now work in the Quality Assurance department of our company.  It is the task of my very able colleagues and I to assure that the product we deliver to our clients (Fortune 500 companies and others) is of the highest quality and functions flawlessly.  In a word, our work has to be perfect.  Or as close to perfect as is humanly possible.

This means that a regular requirement of my job involves me inspecting the work of my colleagues and calling them over to my desk to go over what they’ve submitted, praising wherever possible, but also pointing out errors and mistakes, how to correct them and improve the overall quality of their work.

We have an office full of winsome and intelligent professionals who take their work very seriously and are sensitive to any shortcomings in what they produce.  I’ve watched as some of them look crestfallen—furrowed brow and all—when I’ve brought an error to their attention.  I try not to be calloused when dealing with people.  Ask those who know me.  They’ll tell you.  Especially when I have to look in the eyes of the one I am critiquing.  I fall all over myself, feeling bad that I have to take some sunshine out of their day.

Real correction is not a picnic.  Real, meaning when you have to look square in the eyes of someone and smell their perfume, cologne or even their breath.

I must tell you that this has given me an entirely different perspective on the often irresponsible practice of criticizing another human being who doesn’t happen to be in the same room, out of earshot and eye contact.  A practice, unfortunately, that comes easy to human beings.  And easy to me.

I try to critique those for whom I’m responsible with as much grace as is humanly possible.  I have to look them in the eye when I do it.  It’s really easy to be a critic when those who are the target of your criticisms will never be within breathing distance.  That’s like shooting fish in a pail.  No challenge.  No intelligence needed.  And often, given the nature of the criticisms, no intelligence involved at any stage.

Maybe this should be the benchmark for our often glib and sloppy criticisms of people and stuff.  “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21) the Scriptures inform us.  Can you look the person in the eye? Would you…?  How quickly would we criticize someone (a politician, a performing artist, a minister, a member of my circle) if we were required be in the same room when giving a critique of their work?  Just like I have to do each day with my co-workers.

I’ve found that showing genuine appreciation wherever possible creates life.  In others and in me.  And it makes the corrections a whole lot more palatable.  I think there’s a reason Paul the apostle told us to “speak the truth in love.”

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4 responses

13 06 2012

Great post Chris, as usual. I was impacted when I was working in the Scrapping Room at Beaumont Hospital. We received and emptied cafeteria trays. I read a Salada Teabag that said “speak about others as if they are in the same room with them”. I lived by this for years, and my co-workers and friends noticed. I fell away from it, and reaped bad fruit. I am now back on the wagon, seasoning my words with grace and understatement if there is a difference of opinion. Also, when we shoot fish in a barrel, all we get are dead fish, wasted water, and a vessel that is no longer useful.

13 06 2012
Christian Fahey

Well stated Tom. Enough of the easy criticisms for sure. We’re all just people. We poop, we pee and we die. So we should give as much grace as we hope to receive. Thanks for reading!

13 06 2012
LaDona's Music Studio

Ouch. Mea culpa. Thanks for the prod! You’re so right – it’s horrendously easy to criticize someone not in the same room.

13 06 2012
Christian Fahey

Ouch for me too, LaDona! The bar is high but it’s a worthy standard. Thanks for stopping by!

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