I saw Rev. Michael Beckwith perform a re-commitment ceremony for a married couple a few years back and it blew me away. He looked at the husband and said, “Your job is to be her biggest fan and her greatest critic for the purpose of her spiritual development.” He then turned to the wife and said the same thing to her about him.
As simple of a concept as this was for me to understand, I’d never heard anyone say it quite like that before. As what he said fully registered with me, I was moved deeply and began to cry. I realized that so often I’d struggled with what felt like my conflicting desires to share my love and appreciation with my wife Michelle and also to let her know when something didn’t work for me or when I thought she is “off” in a certain aspect of her life. I noticed that I was usually quite “hot or cold” about this – either being totally focused on appreciating her or totally focused on being critical of her (or withholding my feedback so as to not hurt her feelings).
Hearing Rev. Michael say this, however, made me realize that both of these things – appreciation and feedback – are essential, not only for the health of a relationship, but for the personal growth and development of each person as well.
These two important things – being a fan and a critic – often get seen as opposites when we look at them from an adolescent perspective. But, upon deeper reflection, it becomes clear that they’re intricately connected and fundamentally important for the success of not only a marriage, but any important relationship where we want to have a genuine sense of trust, connection, and authenticity.
Our ability (or often inability) to express our genuine appreciation for someone else is directly related to how safe or comfortable we feel giving that same person critical feedback. In other words, the more open we are to giving and receiving honest (and sometimes critical) feedback in a particular relationship, the more capacity we have to express and experience genuine appreciation with that person. And, when we don’t feel safe or comfortable giving someone honest feedback (or we just aren’t willing to), it actually diminishes our ability to acknowledge them in a real way, and it ultimately diminishes our relationship with them in general. Our goal is to be a real fan and a conscious critic with the important people in our life.
What it means to be a real fan
Being a real fan of someone in our life means that we focus on what we appreciate about them (i.e. look for the good stuff) and are willing to let them know in a loving and generous way. It’s essential that we acknowledge them without agenda or because we want something in return (for them to do something for us, say something to us, or even like us more). Acknowledgements with agenda are manipulations, not acts of true appreciation. Being a real fan of someone else is about celebrating them, recognizing their value (whether or not we like or agree with them all the time), believing in them, and reminding them of their greatness.
What it means to be a conscious critic
Being a conscious critic of someone else means that we’re willing to say things that might be scary or may even potentially hurt their feelings, but we do so anyway (with kindness) because we’re interested in having a relationship with true depth, trust, and authenticity. Being a conscious critic is not about being critical or judgmental (both of which can be hurtful and harmful to others and to us), it’s about being able to share things that get in between us and other people (i.e. “withholds”) and also about giving them feedback that can help them be the best possible version of themselves. It can be a slippery slope for many of us on either side of this equation, but if you think of the most meaningful and important relationships you’ve ever had in your life, you’ll notice that having the freedom to give and receive critical feedback in a productive, positive, and kind way is almost always an essential part of that relationship.
Here are a few things you can think about and practice to expand your ability to be a real fan and a conscious critic with the important people in your life:
1) Use Your Relationship GPS – Many of us have “GPS” systems in our cars or on our phones these days that help us not get lost. However, whenever we find ourselves lost in our relationships or lost in our ability to appreciate people around us, we can think of “Acknowledgement GPS.” In this case, GPS stands for Genuine, Personal, and Specific. Whenever we acknowledge someone, we want it to be Genuine (come from our heart and mean what we say), Personal (appreciate something about them personally and based on their personality – knowing what will have them feel appreciated), and Specific (some specific quality they have or thing they’ve done, and how it specifically impacts us or makes our life better).
2) Clear Your “Withholds” – A “withhold” is something you’ve been holding onto with another person that you haven’t shared with them – hurt, resentment, feedback, fear, an apology, an acknowledgement, or anything else. You can do this with your spouse, friends, family, co-workers, or anyone else. One person goes first and says to the other person, “There’s something I’ve withheld from you.” The other person responds by saying, “Okay, would you like to tell me?” Then the first person expresses their “withhold” with as much honesty, vulnerability, and responsibility as possible (i.e. using “I” statements, owning their feelings, etc.). The other person’s job is to listen with as much openness as possible, not to react, and to just say “thank you” when the first person is done. It’s best to do this back and forth until both people have shared all of their withholds with each other. When you’re done, one or both of you may want to talk about some of the things that were said, but that isn’t always necessary. This is not about debate or someone being right or wrong, this is about being able to share how you’re feeling and what you’ve been withholding as a way to release it and also to give the other person some important feedback in the process.
3) Ask For What You Want – It’s essential that we ask the people we’re in relationship with for the specific kind of appreciation and feedback that we want from them, and how we like to receive it. The more clear we are about what we want from the people around us (and more willing we are to find out what they want), the more likely we are to have authentic and mutually beneficial relationships. I’ve gotten myself into trouble (and still do at times) when I assume to know how people want to be acknowledged or what works for them in terms of getting feedback from me. Not everyone is like us (as hard as that is for some of us to realize), so we have to negotiate this personally and specifically in each relationship so that we can honor people’s needs, desires, and personalities.
Have fun with this and be kind to yourself and others as you engage in this process of being a real fan and a conscious critic. While this is an essential aspect of deepening and enhancing our relationships, and is also something that most of us truly want (even if it may make us a little uncomfortable), it can be trick and scary for most of us, so just be aware of this dynamic and have compassion for you and those around you.
Where in your life and relationships can you see you could deepen your ability to be a fan and/or a critic of someone important, for the purpose of their personal development? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog here.
For this week’s audio message (including additional tips and suggestions) – click here.