Normally a dinner conversation at our house goes something like this:
Dad: So Levi, did you go anywhere exciting today?
Levi: Trevor, you’re not allowed to eat that!
Mom: Trevor, please spit that out.
Dad: So mom, did Levi go anywhere exciting today?
Of course, it is one of the traditional, time-honored, and typically self-assumed jobs of an older sibling to monitor and comment upon every movement made by the younger. If you’re an older sibling, there can be no doubt that this responsibility was only ever performed with the most altruistic motives and not even a speck of selfishness, right? If you’re a younger sibling, you know that’s a big pile o’ poo. I’m in the middle, so I am as guilty and innocent as all of you!
But stinker though he may be, our elder child will occasionally surprise us with genuine concern for the other, and the dinner table is the typical location. You see, little brother has a particularly potent food allergy, and big brother sometimes catches a near-hazard-down-the-hatch before mom or dad. His warning to Trevor is often met with “AAAUUUGGGHHH!,” as the latter doesn’t give a soiled Huggies about the danger-and may not even understand it. But although Levi gets as frustrated as any family member with a waddler’s whining, he tenderly explains why Trevor can’t have the delicacy, and sometimes Trevor listens, even more than to my wife or me.
So at least in this one instance, Levi has learned to care about Trevor more than his relationship with Trevor-to sacrifice the approval or positive feedback he absolutely loves squeezing (sometimes literally!) out of his bro in order to benefit Trevor solely instead.
And guess what? In our non-confrontational culture of individualism and insecurity, we desperately need to do the same. We were created with so much potential that is never realized because saving face in a friendship is considered more valuable than saving a friend’s reputation, job, marriage, or even life. Think of how much faster you’d become better if friends were willing to tenderly tell you about a weakness holding you back instead of worrying about how the backlash would affect what they get out of the relationship so much that your weakness was never revealed to you? Why do we often assume others prefer the “Kick Me” sign on their back instead of the momentary annoyance and embarrassment of being told to take it off? Always care about those you love more than your relationships with them (Click to tweet). Here are some great ways how…
1. Offer a warning shot
Our society preaches close-mindedness and intolerance toward confrontation while claiming to champion open-mindedness and tolerance. Let’s face it, your loved one has not been conditioned to hear constructive criticism, so be nice and let them know both that and how you’ll be using it before you do. A simple “Hey, I care about you a lot and might have noticed something that’s really keeping you from your potential. Can we chat tomorrow?” is all it takes. They have time to become ready to receive and you have time to…
2. Check your motives
Yep, I totally get that one reason we are content to save the friendship over the friend is that we’ve been on the receiving end of not-so-constructive criticism and don’t want be to perceived as the holier-than-thou jerk. Before you engage them-whether on social media, over the phone, or in person (please don’t text for this!)-identify all the lousy reasons you have for doing so and make sure whatever you plan to say doesn’t reflect any of them. If what you gotta share is meant to make them better, say it that way.
On the flip side, whenever you get criticism, ask yourself every lousy reason you’re not listening to it, even if you only remember to after you’ve spent time cooling down. Don’t reflect any of those reasons in your response. Remember, you don’t want the “Kick Me” sign to stay on you either, so when someone takes it off-regardless of his or her motives-put your mind in a place where you can benefit from it. Why not, right?
3. Go to them first
This one’s so easy, yet so hard. Never never never never never express a person’s need for improvement to anyone other than that person. Not only are you caring about your relationship with her more than her, you’re caring about your relationship with others more than her too! Be part of the solution, not the problem. And I say this having messed up here just recently. Last week, I exposed some negativity about one of my work partners to another and only today went to the former himself. Yep, I still need to be better too.
4. Consider it a long-term investment
Since most of us are non-confrontational, individualistic, and insecure, we just might not initially respond to each other with a “Thanks for making me a better person! I love you so much!” Perhaps an “AAAUUUGGGHHHH!” is more likely. We need time to process and learn. But the beautiful thing is this: such consideration for people over relationships with people is so rare that it’s seldom forgotten. It is very common for folks to return to their constructive criticizer months or even years later with great gratitude. Not only were they jarred enough to think, they also had time to see the intended benefit become a reality. They won’t recall the compliment of flattery or the person too afraid to rock the boat; they’ll remember the one who cared enough to confront.
5. Ask them to make you better!
Whether related to offering them direction or not, there is tremendous value in asking how you can honestly become better yourself. By doing so, you simultaneously destroy a terrible taboo and make it easy for people to care about you more than what they get out of knowing you. You’ll be better faster, and they’ll know they helped make you so. Isn’t that what friends are for?
Proverbs 27:6 confirms, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Click to tweet). At one location where I work, I frequently insert scalpels and even pencil sized-needles into people to diagnose and treat fatal cancers. These wounds are mildly unpleasant, but I have yet to hear from a patient that they’d rather pass up the poke than cut out the cancer. Keep kisses from killing your loved one’s best by wounding well to make them better.