Unkind criticism is the hobby of fools, the boast of the arrogant, the exploit of the jealous, and the spiritual gift of hypocrites. Learn from criticism if it’s justified; ignore it if untrue, unfair, or ignorant; and, if needed, respond to it with Christian grace (Proverbs 15:1, 2).

Over the Christmas break, we took some time to go and see The Greatest Showman in the cinema.  This was a couple of hours of catchy tunes, loosely based on part of P T Barnum’s life.  Perfectly pleasant and had the added bonus of 2 hours of watching Hugh Jackman!  However, the “critics” in print, on TV and radio have been scathing in some their reviews.  Some of the kinder comments included:

“A showy, confused, big hunk of nothing.”

“The director, Michael Gracey, delivers quick doses of excitement in splashy scenes but has little feel for the choreographic action, offers scant historical substance, and displays slender dramatic insight.”

Both are a fair reflection of how the individuals felt about the content, but many others who have attended a viewing, found it a pleasant afternoon’s entertainment, harming no one and thoroughly enjoyable.  It would have been unfortunate if the critics’ view had informed opinion to such an extent that individuals chose not to attend as a result of what someone else felt on that particular day.

Undertaking a voluntary role as a school governor, our role is often described “critical friend”….but can you really be critical and a friend?  When does honesty or challenging become demotivating, or worse, bullying?

We live in an age when there is 24 hour media coverage and people feel free to share their personal viewpoints at the drop of a hat – everything ranging from food, to music to politics and more – the fact we may have a different view from others leads to debate, conversation and hopefully an agreement to disagree if necessary.

In this era of social media, we often hear from “celebrities” of the comments that people make on their social media feeds including some truly horrendous thoughts and opinions, that are all the more sinister by being hidden behind anonymity.  Many have decided to close their Twitter and similar accounts rather than face the daily tirade with the opinions of others who they don’t even know.

The option to “delete” or “ignore” is almost impossible to achieve when you are in a working environment, and facing criticism by colleagues and senior staff.  Many view their appraisal and performance management as an opportunity for their manager to heap criticism on them, and hence go in with a closed mind and full of trepidation.

Remember though, their critical evaluation is just their opinion – UNLESS they can back it up with evidence.  When presented with something that is irrefutable, with strong examples of where something has gone awry, it is easier for everyone to then acknowledge, develop as a result and move on.  Keeping personalities out of the conversation is also crucial – “Hugh Jackman was pants” is an opinion and nothing more.  For everyone who may agree with this, there are just as many who would whole heartedly disagree.  Neither is wrong or right and is just an opinion unless there is specific evidence provided that he was – “Hugh Jackman struggled with the higher notes in every song, and seemed at a loss to master the simplest of dance moves”.

So, if you are required within your role to provide honest feedback or assessment with your staff, remember some key points:-

  •       Avoid using language that criticises their personality
  •       Provide evidence to specifically address an issue – “you’re always late” is too general.  “Over the last month, you’ve arrived 10 minutes late on 5 occasions” is specific and addresses their behaviour.  This allows discussion and how they intend to improve it.

You don’t have to like everyone you work with!  There’s no reason you cannot work with someone productively and co-operatively, even if you do not share their views or wish to spend your lunch break with them.  However, unkind comments and abrasive opinions about them walks a delicate line between your view and bullying.


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