“Criticize with influence: bark, don’t bite.” – Laurie Puhn
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” – Bible
Joe and Jane were both reasonably good with numbers and so they took turns balancing the checkbook. That way both of them had a good feel for the status of their finances.
However, Joe and Jane had very different ways of making entries in the checkbook. Joe was very meticulous about entering in expenditures immediately.
Jane on the other hand made all her entries at the end of the month. When it was her month to balance the account, she entered in her entries and everything was fine. When it was Joe’s turn, he had to hunt Jane up and get all her input.
So one day Joe unloaded on Jane. “Why can’t you handle the checkbook the way normal people do? You are always late getting your entries in. Some day you are going to forget an entry and then we will be all messed up.” Jane was visibly upset and attempted to defend her methods. His criticism hurt. How could Joe have handled this situation better?
Laurie Puhn, in her book “Fight Less, Love More,” suggests five ways we overcriticize. I have rephrased them in a positive sense.
1. Don’t disguise personal preference as criticism. Just because someone does things differently than we do doesn’t mean they are wrong and definitely doesn’t justify criticism. Jane’s method for handling the checkbook was different from Joe’s but apparently worked OK; they had not had a problem balancing the checkbook to this point.
2. Don’t use criticism to humiliate your mate in front of others. Even if there is a valid need for criticism, it should be done in private; it isn’t anyone else’s business.
3. Don’t use criticism to rub it in her face. Don’t make a big deal out of it, especially if there is an agreement to fix the concern. Continually reminding her of the past won’t improve the future any. Once an agreement is reached, leave it alone.
4. Don’t criticize something after the fact. We can’t change the past. A plan to improve the future may be in order, but once mistakes have been made, forgive (if that’s needed) and move on.
5. Correct the mistake, not the person. Don’t attack the person’s character. In the case of Joe and Jane, Joe strongly implied that Jane wasn’t a normal person. This is a serious allegation. Once again, deal with the individual event and move on.
6. I am going to add a sixth suggestion for overcriticizing: Don’t hold your criticism until it explodes. Deal with issues when they come up. Don’t wait until an accumulation of offenses (real or perceived) reaches the detonation point. Apparently Joe held in his concerns for some time, letting his emotions build up to a dangerous level.
What should Joe have done in the above scenario? Perhaps this would work: “Jane, you do a great job balancing the checkbook when it’s your turn, and each month everything always comes out OK. But I get a little frustrated when it’s my turn since I first have to go get your entries for the month.
“How about this: when it’s my month to balance the checkbook I will tell you a couple of days ahead of time so you can put your entries in. Would that be acceptable to you, or do you have another idea?”
Puhn offers three steps to rational criticism:
1. Keep in mind what you want for a result. You don’t want a fight; you want the concern dealt with. Make sure you clearly understand the situation before judging.
2. Emphasize the benefits of changing whatever is being criticized.
3. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Ultimately the goal should be improve the situation for both you and your spouse.
Roger Rollins is the executive director of The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. Contact him at 803-640-4689, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.aikenfamco.com.
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