Walking into a Firing Squad

“You need to lose ten pounds and work on the way you walk. It is too fast and your steps are too short. Get rid of that evening gown. It does nothing for you. Work on your diction, pitch and your tone when you are speaking!”

This is just a sampling of the critique I received the morning after I won Miss South Carolina. It was like walking into a “firing squad” except they weren’t holding guns and they were smiling. Since I had never walked in those shoes, I had no idea when I went to breakfast that morning to meet with judges who voted for me, that I would walk out bawling my eyes out. Seriously, I went back to my hotel room and got into a fetal position. Gail and Rita who were responsible for grooming me for the Miss America pageant, which was just 8 weeks away, helped me see the “purpose” in the critique. It was “constructive criticism”.

After an hour of crying and putting ice packs on my swollen eyes, I had to go to a press conference at lunch that same day with the local television stations and newspapers. I was the best actress in the world. I am sure I could have won an “Emmy!” Over the next few days I slowly regained the confidence I had felt during the week of competition. Coming to the realization that the judges really loved me and saw my potential, but desperately saw things I needed to change and improve to have a chance at Miss America. Their critique which seemed so cruel was actually an act of love!!!

Constructive criticism is not only hard to hear but it is also hard to give. I don’t know about you, but when I have needed to say things within our home to our kids or Bill, I have rehearsed it in my mind, “tried it on”, and looked at it from all angles. Sometimes I have not been able to deliver at all. At other times I have delivered and personally botched it. And sometimes I have delivered constructive criticism and it has been well received. What I call a win.

Proverbs 15:31 (NIV) says, “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.”

Proverbs 15:31 (American Standard) says, “HE whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.”

Proverbs 15:31 (The Living Translation) says, “If you profit from constructive criticism, you will be elected to the wise men’s hall of fame. But to reject criticism is to harm yourself and your own best interest.”

Sometimes I love to read many translations of Scripture. It just says what I need to hear in different ways so that it REALLY SINKS IN!!! I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to be in a “Hall of Fame!” If you say you don’t, I am not sure I would believe you…………. In order to be wise, we must listen to and act on constructive criticism. On the Back 9, I have done some dwelling, pondering and praying about how to receive and better deliver constructive criticism when necessary. Allow me to share what I have learned from study, trial and error, and my own personal experience.

1.) Timing is everything. Pick the right time. For example, the day after the Miss SC pageant, I was exhausted! I had not had many hours of sleep before going to breakfast with those judges!! I realize now it was their only time to meet with me before they traveled home, but it was a TERRIBLE TIME FOR THE RECIPIENT. That is extremely important to realize. PICK THE RIGHT TIME, realizing no time is perfect for criticism but there are times that are WAY BETTER than others.

2.) Ask yourself, “Have I earned a right to have a voice with this person????” Meaning, do you have a trust relationship with the individual? Does this person know you care? Has your past demonstrated that you care? Sometimes we are the wrong messenger. The correction or criticism is valid, and is needed, but maybe you are not the CORRECT MESSENGER. The best chance for someone to hear constructive criticism is when the receiver knows you have their best interest at heart.

3.) Make sure you are not the, “Pot calling the kettle black!” Meaning, are you constructively criticizing something that you yourself are guilty of? If so, you will NOT BE HEARD.

4.) Find common ground. Using common ground for the approach of criticism is highly effective. It takes you out of the “Miss Perfect seat!” No one is perfect. For example, a close friend recently gave me some constructive criticism about my cell phone use. At first it hurt my feelings, because in my heart I never want to purpose to be rude!! But the minute she said, “I am guilty too”, and then told me of her recent embarrassing moment of being rude with her cell phone, it softened the blow. She identified with me instead of putting herself on a pedestal. It really helped me!!!! I am thankful!!

5.) Where you confront. Make sure of the audience when you have to offer constructive criticism. Make sure those included are the only ones necessary. NO one likes to feel “teamed up on!” nor embarrassed in front of others.

6.) Pray before you criticize. Ask God questions such as: Is this important? Or does it just bother me? Will this help the other person? Do I have their “greater good in my heart”? Ask for direction, His timing, for Him to “open the door of opportunity”. In my experience, if I implement the above things and have patience for God’s answer and His timing……IT IS AMAZING how THE SUCCESS RATE goes UP!

Lastly, I am forever grateful to those judges who gave of their time to do what would ultimately HELP ME the MOST! I am CONVINCED if it were not for their “Act of love” in “constructive criticism,” my success at the Miss America Pageant would have been MUCH LESS.

If you are like most, no one wants to go around finding fault. It is not a “fun” way to live. But it is a necessity, and our responsibility at times, especially with our children, family, friends, co-workers and people we share life with. The Bible calls it “speaking the truth in love!” There is always a right way and a wrong way to go about things. Ask God to help you if there is something you need to address. He is a loving God and He will show you the way! Be patient and wait on His guidance.

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