WALKING THE HIGH WIRE
Handling criticism can feel like walking a high wire over Niagara Falls. In all honesty, I have never seen Niagara Falls but the pictures give it just enough cred to convey the meaning. I may be judged here but the thought of going over the Falls in a barrel sounds pretty epic, but then the thought of dying really doesn’t… so I think I will pass.
Criticism is a bit risky. Being true to our nature, no one enjoys being told, “Oh, thanks for telling me I suck at that!” There is an inherent risk on the other side too. What if, in our blindness, we are about to make a catastrophic mistake and no one says, “Hey man! Um, that’s bad, really, really bad, and if you continue to do that you will regret it.” The point being, we could benefit from some honest, open, clear, and respectful criticism.
Consider the Source of the Criticism
Consider the source. Just like those Pinewood Derby cars my son and I built in the cub scouts, not all of them weigh the same. Your wife should get more credence than your butcher. Do we still have those? Anyway… you know what I mean. My wife and I have been mastering (not perfecting) this for decades, but the early years were rough! I know she has my best interest in mind, and because of that, our marriage is on a whole new level. I don’t always like criticism, but I try to listen.
Your close friends, Band of Brothers, should be given a green light to give constructive criticism. In his little book with the same title, Stephen Mansfield gives 5 Essentials of a Band of Brothers:
- Indirect Connection- A shoulder-to-shoulder connection that develops over time and pressure.
- Extension of Honor- a shared enjoyment that turns into a shared purpose.
- Covenant Transition- when two or three men go beyond indirect connection and honor and into covenant. A bond that is committed to helping one another improve.
- Free Fire Zone- a space that a guy has permission to say what needs to be said.
- Contagious Culture- when the other four are running on all cylinders, you get a culture that men want to participate.
Every guy needs a place where other guys can say what needs to be said without your push back. It can be over a fire, on the lake, or at the golf course. Guys need space and grace to grow. Mentors are great sources of needed criticism. After being agreed upon, a mentor can really help you navigate the howling winds of the high wire. When a man gives helpful criticism, he is doing you a favor.
- Are they reliable?
- Do they have my best interest in mind?
- Are they people who just run off at the mouth?
Consider the Substance of the Criticism
After considering the source, is the substance of their criticism valid? We have to resist the emotional tug to overreact through EGO. Breathe deeply and let the initial emotional response pass by. The fight or flight part of your brain is called the amygdala, and as we grow in spiritual and emotional awareness, we can learn to modulate the fight or flight mechanism and move forward without emotional restraint. Navy Seals do this all the time. It’s how they improve collectively and individually. They are in constant improvement. In a podcast interview, I had recently, Jason Gardner said that is something that sets them apart.
- Could it be true?
- Have I heard this before?
- Why does the guy feel its necessary to say it right now?
Consider a Solution
Criticism is beneficial when it is actionable. If possible, you want to do your best to avoid the problem again. Further, you want to know the warning signs so you can pivot.
I offer some potential next steps.
- Write down what goals or priorities could be negatively affected if I don’t have a solution.
- Invite your band of brothers to help you make a rock-solid plan.
- Write down a few ideas (solutions)
- Ask: Is this a short-term solution that will bring long-term regret?
- Write down a detailed action plan. (How and why you choose the way you did)
- Follow up after two months and see how your plan is working out. Make changes if necessary.
- What needs to be my next step?
- Am I equipped to solve this alone?
- Have I said thank you to the person who was honest with us?
Walk that high wire.
Face criticism grinning.
Be a new man.