A Little Goes a Long Way

I was reflecting on some of the ways people have shared feedback or opinions throughout my years in ministry. I’ve long believed that, “If you don’t stick your neck out during the meeting, you shouldn’t stick your tongue out afterward,” advice that I heard at a student council convention in high school.

However, just how we stick our neck out can make a big difference in how what we are saying is received. As so many of us heard growing up, but often don’t abide by as an adult, “It’s not just what we say, but how we say it.”

The thing I’ve been thinking about on and off is how we have gotten to where we are in our culture today. This is largely because of the sociologist in me. But especially because we have gotten so used to criticizing people we don’t have a relationship with (legislatures, media personnel, actors, athletes, etc.), it seems we have lost a certain sense of tactfulness and respect in how we interact with people we do have a relationship with, but with whom we don’t agree.

For example, even when it comes to something simple like asking a question about why your church or school district or health clinic does what they do. Sure, you could fire away an email laying out all your questions. Or, you could start your email by saying something you have appreciated or that you recognize all the hard work that is being put in. Then, you could say, “There are a few things I’ve been wondering about…” and go from there.

I don’t always get it right myself, but I do try to remember the “sandwich method” of giving feedback that I was taught in school: Say something positive, then give your constructive criticism, then end with something positive or that you appreciate again. That may seem a little “too Minnesota nice” to some people, but when we make an effort to remember that the person is a human being, just like us, trying to do his or her best, it might make us approach things differently. And as is often the case, taking a few extra moments to be kind to whoever we are talking to can go a long way.

What I’ve realized is that when I focus on finding something good or something to be grateful rather than only on the bad, whether I am sharing feedback or not– when I remember to say a prayer of blessing for someone who is bothering me instead of focusing on why I’m annoyed– it opens up space within me to feel more patient, gracious, and compassionate. When that happens, it helps me feel better about the other person. It also helps me feel more at peace, with myself and the world around me.