I have a smart mouth. At least that’s what my mother always told me. I think she’s right. She’s good at telling the truth. But I’ve also worked very hard not to use that smart mouth unless I have to, unless I’m hungry, or unless I’m impatient with the listener.
I noticed two things the other day. First, it’s hard to give feedback when the feedback stings. Second, it’s hard to soften words that are inherently sharp.
I was giving feedback the other day to someone, and I didn’t use my smart mouth. I used the best approach I could. I wanted good for this person, a student of mine. And it was still hard to tell the truth. I’ve been teaching graduate students for eight years and giving critical feedback is still a task.
So the next time you hear hard feedback, take a breath as you take in the words. It may be as hard to say as it is to hear.
This is an instruction I hear a few times a week in my fitness routine. It’s a group class, and our instructors–especially one of them–when they lead the warm up say in one way or another, “Relax what you’re not using.”
I breathe as if for the first time when I hear it. I feel spoken to. I feel embarrassed because they are always talking to me even in a room of 30 people.
They’ve told me for a while that my trouble is in relaxing. Release your shoulders. A tight mouth does nothing for your power. A hard stare is not helping. These are things I need to keep hearing.
Focus on what I’m using. Conserve the rest for when their time comes. Breathe.
When I heard your explanation of your new position, it made me leap inside my heart. I can see you being a chaplain over there, seeing your patients, pushing the borders of your pastoral identity. I could see you praying and preaching and leading.
Your eyes sparkled as you spoke. I noticed it even though I kept my listening face. I guarded the treasure of your brightened countenance. I thought of the other residents and students in our CPE program. I thought of my chaplain colleagues and the pastors I know who are open to call. I saw them and the fulfillment of their hopes in your sparkling eyes.
You weren’t entirely happy with everything–and who’d expect that given your description of the social climate of the place–but you possessed a vision of what could be. That’s what came through your speech, through your eyes.
The vision of your next days, the long moments with others where you’d have an impact, where you’d do some more good in the world. Good for you. Good for them. Good for us.