Think about this scenario: Ten people express their opinion about you. Nine of them tell you that you’re a great person. However one disagrees. This person goes on to observe three things about you that annoy them – your mannerisms, your quirks, your eccentricities. So what do you do next? (take 30 seconds to think about this before reading on….)
Ok, here’s what tends to happen. You forget that nine people just told you that you’re great. You then focus all your thoughts on the one person whose vibe was negative. Isn’t that right? Of course it is. We’ve all been there.
Question is…why does negative criticism seem to carry more weight than positive affirmation? After all, 9 out of 10 people have just affirmed you. That’s pretty good…right? The majority have spoken and yet the minority voice is the one that has grabbed your attention. Why?
Surely the negative voice shouldn’t affect you? One lone critic can’t have any impact on you? Well, you’d think so. But that’s not how it works. Truth is…critical voices are usually far more incisive than affirming ones. But why?
The reason is that critical voices tend to communicate specifics whereas affirming voices speak in generalities. Critical voices are like a razor sharp knife – cutting and effective. Affirming voices are often like blunt knives – pointless and ineffective. A critical voice articulates what it doesn’t like and why it doesn’t like it. Affirming voices often tend to be cliched and dull. But soft cliches are no match for the targeted accuracy of the critical voice. Even if the critical voice is wrong (which they often are), their specificity still cuts with more pointed sharpness than the monotonous generalisation of the affirming voice. It’s for this reason that criticism tends to be more powerful than affirmation.
So what can we do about this? Well basically, we need to start a revolution!! It’s time for the affirming voices to get smarter and sharper. If you want to make your encouragement effective, don’t just revert to the blandness of cliched words e.g. ‘you’re a really good person’ or ‘you have a great heart’. As noble as these sentiments are, they will always be easily trounced by the guided precision of a critical voice. This is not fair on good people who deserve to be affirmed. It also gives undue and unmerited influence to the negative voice which tends only to speak up for it’s own interests and in the process, undermines the confidence of great people.
If you want to be a great encourager, make your affirmation sharp, focused and precise. Avoid generalities.
When someone achieves something good, don’t just tell them you appreciate it. Tell them why you appreciate it. How has it inspired you?
When someone blesses your life, don’t just thank them for blessing you. Tell them why they’ve blessed you. How has this influenced your life for the better?
When someone serves faithfully in church, don’t just thank them for their service. Tell them why are you grateful. What does their faithfulness mean to you? How has it influenced you? What impact has this had on your life?
Here’s the truth. A culture of negative criticism is intrinsically selfish. It’s only concern is self interest and it never brings out the best in others. The opposite happens in a culture of encouragement. This builds faith & confidence and brings out the best in people. It’s just that we need to develop greater intentionality and precision with the latter.
It’s time for the affirming voices to speak with the volume and accuracy they need! This could change the culture of a city.
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