I’d venture to guess that most of us like talking more than we like listening. Counselors are paid to listen, but for the majority of us, we’d rather express our opinion versus listening to another’s.
Having written a number of books and plenty of articles and published well over 600 blogs, I have, without trying, widely opened the door for feedback, push back, criticism and opinion. When I write something like a book I embrace the input of others, their corrective feedback and their helpful, critical eye. Using what I call pre- readers makes for a better book. Having hand-selected persons who I know will read the material and will also be willing to give me honest and fair input is invaluable.
By the time a book goes through editing and then proofing, being scoured for theological correctness and cultural sensitivity, etc., the author is ready to be done with it. This process can take several years and can be somewhat grueling.
Our first widely published book, Called Together, was featured in a magazine article about methods of premarital counseling. It was great to see it featured and to read the positive article about its effectiveness. One month later came the letters to the editor. While most were positive, one was extremely negative. It was obvious the writer of the letter never read the book, but those toxic and inaccurate words were already out there and I could not retrieve them or add a rebuttal.
The same is true with online reviews where books are sold. While many are positive, there are those who criticize your work and give you one-star ratings for the most trivial things. Once again, authors cannot provide a rebuttal or even go on the offensive to somehow set the record straight. You have to learn to take the good with the bad and not lose sleep over it.
Articles and blogs are somewhat unusual because it’s much easier to be critical of these than it is a book, primarily because of their shorter length. My experience with this type of writing is a bit different. Let me explain.
Negative responses from your audience might begin with a question. You, the author, do your best to provide an answer. This then provokes another question or two which are often not related to your response to their first question. You once again attempt to not be defensive, take the question as sincere and provide an answer. Now the tone begins to change and you begin to pick up that the questions were leading and a ruse for what is to come.
The next expression is pushback and criticism of your written piece. If you as the author continue to try and respond, the critic can easily become venomous, strongly opinionated and letting you know rather loudly that they are right and you are clearly wrong. The whole thing begins to break down and starts to feel really bad.
The worst part is this is normally not a person who when reading your many blogs or articles ever writes back with a positive comment or word of encouragement. This type of person is waiting for you to slip up and wander off into one of their sacred cows. And this criticism from the critic whose only goal is to prove you wrong by their expertise or life experience, is really to ridicule you and tell you how wrong you are. It is typically pretty unfair, undesired and often unprovoked.
Most likely there will be nothing productive from the conversation and it will become more and more toxic along with the possibility of it also becoming anger-filled.
How should we respond and give critical input to an author?
There are respectful and acceptable steps we can take that do not create further offense, hurt and anger. Let me share a few helpful steps with you. These are steps that I have incorporated into my life as well.
- Know your boundaries. Stay within your field of ministry or expertise. (See II Corinthians 10:12-18.)
- Earn the right to speak into another’s life and what they write. If at all possible, make sure of the health of the relationship first. This builds trust which allows truth to be spoken without taking offense.
- Thoroughly read what is written. Do not allow a word in the piece to cause you to emotionally react. Try to be sure the author is saying what you think they are saying and do your best to not only read words but to hear their heart.
- Find the positive. What can you agree with and then include this in your comments.
- If you don’t understand something, then humbly ask the author for further clarity. Perhaps you are misreading the piece.
- Questions to the author that are leading in nature will be picked up by the author and you will be setting yourself up for a defensive response. Stay away from leading questions. These are questions with an agenda attached to them, e.g., “You don’t really mean what you are saying about ______, do you?”
- Give your input through your experience or knowledge humbly. The author will receive it when it is felt that it’s coming from a genuine experience and a genuine heart of humility.
- Do not keep the dialogue going beyond one or two responses. It just gets defensive after that. If there is disagreement, let it go.
You can do all these steps without being defensive or argumentative. A know-it-all response will come across as not legitimate, but rather arrogant.
When responding, keep these verses in mind:
I hope this will help to give improved and more gentle responses in a sincere effort to be a builder in conversation keeping the admonishments in mind from the above listed scriptures.