So, you have a criticism to make about a person, group, political structure, or entire worldview? Think in order to present your opinion in a strong and convincing way that you must abandon all tact? Or, on the other extreme, think being gracious means hedging all of your sentences and using ridiculously politically correct language?
See last week's post for more context. Or this one, specifically about how to have arguments/debates/discussions without being a jerk. Or this one, about general conversations and not being a jerk.
As you can see, I’m a big proponent of not being a jerk. Probably because I tend to be a jerk from time to time.
- Don’t say “with all due respect” and then follow it with something outrageously disrespectful. “With all due respect” is meant to put emphasis on the fact that you’re trying to be fair and gracious while still criticizing something. It’s meant so the reader will hear your words in a certain tone. It’s not meant to justify throwing around insults, personal slams, or exaggerations made for emotional effect. (This also applies to “Bless her heart” “I love him, but….” or “Just sayin’.”)
- Pretend to be a reasonably open-minded member of the group you’re criticizing, listening to what you have to say. Would your reaction be, “Ouch. That’s interesting. That person might have a point”? Good. Would their reaction be, “Who does she think she is? That isn’t even close to the intent behind what we’re doing. She completely misrepresented us”? Not so good. Would their reaction be bursting into tears because you were so pointed and personal in your attack? Really not good.
- Don’t discuss or argue or write when you’re angry. Opinions just come out way too strong when this happens.
- Remember that your goal is to persuade actual people, and that people are both logical and emotional. You might have an airtight, well-documented case for your opinion, but if you present it in an arrogant, mean-spirited, or condescending way, I’m not listening, because you ticked off my emotional side.
- If you wouldn’t say it to the person’s face, don’t say it. This can range from your next-door neighbor to the president of the United States. It’s not the same thing as “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” That’s too simplistic. There is a time for things that aren’t “nice,” a time for confrontation and criticism. But distance gives us a false bravery that makes us unkind. When we shout curses at someone who isn’t there, we’re really just being cowardly.
- Be brave enough to admit exceptions. Tell me you’re not sure about something. Admit that you don’t know all the details. Let the gray areas of issues exist—and even call attention to them. All of these things broadcast “I am not a jerk! I am not assuming that I must always be absolutely right,” and my respect for you will go up exponentially. Life is complex. Our opinions probably should be too.
- Listen to the other side. And when I say “listen,” I hope you didn’t picture a lion waiting in the grasslands, attentively watching the herd of antelope to see which is the weakest so he can rip it to shreds. I mean actually listen. If you really love the truth (more than you love being right), you’ll want to learn whatever you can from someone else’s point of view.