Don’t Shoot The Messenger

Several years ago I was asked to tell a staff member at camp that much of the current staff wasn’t super into her because of certain behaviors she was exhibiting.

It didn’t go well. She got really defensive and started arguing with me. I didn’t even know what she was arguing about! I was just relaying a message, handing out some constructive criticism. I didn’t want her walking around with a bad rap–I liked her–so when I heard what was “going around” I agreed to bring it to her attention because I thought that’s what she would have wanted.

That’s what I would have wanted. But not everyone is like me.

OK. I get that, NOW.

The incident with the staff member taught me to become better about delivering criticism. I am more conscious about cushioning blows and I always try to put on “kid gloves.” But if someone comes to me, they’re coming to me—so as far as I’m concerned, all bets (and gloves) are off.

Obviously, I don’t have all the answers, so I defer to someone else when I need to, but more often than not, if someone is coming to me, it’s because they want to know what I think, and they are ready to hear it.

Or they think they are.

Another staff member from camp (a boy this time) used to come to me with concerns about his then-girlfriend. I told him exactly what I thought about his situation and how things were going to turn out if he didn’t make some changes, but he wasn’t hearing me and sure enough, that’s exactly how things turned out.

I kept my mouth shut, but I decided I would no longer waste my time dispensing valuable info to someone who wasn’t going to listen.

Negative feedback, unsolicited comments, criticism—they’re all part of life. None of us are immune. The key is to forget the ego and accept the information as a suggestion, not a judgment.

The thing is…criticism can be exhausting. It’s a lot of work to better yourself or something you’re working on. The people who are all “You know what you should do…? or Why don’t you do this…?” They are tough because they require us to have restraint. It’s knee jerk and natural to get defensive when someone offers a different point of view, but some people are genuinely meaning to be helpful.

It’s just not always easy to know which ones will lead to growth and which ones will lead to a broken spirit.

I got RIPPED once for how I am “as a parent” and it crushed me. I started second guessing everything and how my “questionable” parenting skills were going to possibly affect my kids. It was only after weeks of self-doubt that I finally took a look at my kids and how they were progressing. And then I asked myself if the person who shredded me was the right person to be listening to.

Do you respect the person? Is she credible? 

Listening to someone who doesn’t know what she is talking about is like getting directions from someone who hasn’t been where you are going.

In other words, if criticism is coming from someone you respect and admire, it’s definitely worth a listen. But if it’s coming from someone who also doesn’t know what the EFF they’re doing, or someone who isn’t doing anything so great themselves, don’t make yourself crazy.

The people that want you to succeed, those are the people to listen to. They are the ones who want to see you do well. It’s not always easy for people who care to tell you something you don’t want to hear, but if they do, be gracious and thankful because it’s coming from a place of love.

And when they give you information you’re not entirely comfortable with, don’t get defensive or agrumentative or preoccupied planning what you’re going to say, just shut it and listen. Chances are, they have already been there so they know.

If we can learn to accept criticism with the same amount of grace we use to accept compliments,  I can’t imagine the growth that will come from it. Because criticism happens, so when it does try to remember to consider the source as much as the comments.

And also, don’t shoot the messenger.

Thanks for being here!

The DS&D Crew