Thursday, August 9, 2007

Judgement and Evaluation: Roadblock to Effective Communication

Judgment and Evaluation: Roadblock to Effective Communication
Several years ago my 6-year-old cousin Casey was playing her first year of girl's softball. During the game she got a hit and ended up on 3rd base. When the next batter came up and hit the ball, Casey made no effort to run toward home plate. She just stood on base like nothing had happened. Seeing this the coach desperately tried to get her to move home, so she would score. He began yelling loudly, "Go home, Casey, go home!" He repeated this message several times, getting louder and louder, but Casey remained on 3rd base. Finally, the coach looked in disbelief as Casey ran from her position on base to her mother in the stands. She was sobbing. When her mother finally calmed her down, she asked Casey what had happened. Her daughter's reply was, "The coach told me to go home!" She hadn't understood that he meant home plate instead of home. Learning how to communicate effectively is hard work and takes a tremendous amount of effort to master.
One of the major barriers preventing people from communicating deeply with others is the fear of the reaction or the evaluation and judgment of the listener. Many words describe the tendency to judge and criticize. Some include ridicule, condemnation, harsh judgment, threatening, lecturing, analyzing, disagreeing, warning, ordering, preaching, name calling, withdrawing, blaming, mocking, put-downs, insults, sarcasm, silence, pouting, rubbing-in, destructive teasing and laughing at mistakes. Isn't it interesting how many ways there are to judge and put people down?
Imagine for a moment that a beautiful new museum is to be built in your area. The excitement builds as the ground is broken and construction begins on the two-year project. You drive your family by frequently to see the progress that is being made. After about a year the walls go up and the building begins to take definite shape. One day you Great Uncle Ernie, a retired building contractor who helped build several museums in large cities, comes to visit. Your family proudly drives Uncle Ernie by the half finished museum being built in your city. Everyone is shocked by the response he makes when he sees it. Instead of giving praise or showing excitement over the progress, he begins to severely criticize the building and the grounds. He says, "This is the museum I have ever seen in my life. It doesn't look anything like other museums in America. It doesn't have any grass or flowers out front; it doesn't ever have a front door!: "But Uncle Ernie," you say, "it is still under construction. One day it will be a beautiful museum with grass, flowers and even doors." But he does not listen. He continues, "Look! There isn't even a parking lot. They have lumber strewn all over, and they even have an outside toilet." As you drive away Uncle Ernie is still mumbling criticisms about the new museum.
What would you think about his response? Most of us would say that Uncle Ernie has lost his mind! Of all people, a building contractor should be able to understand when a building is still under construction. Can't he see that the museum is not finished? But before we are too quick to judge him, think about our own children who are also still "under construction." How often do we treat them like Uncle Ernie did the unfinished museum?
Parents want their children to be better than they are and so try to point out things that need to be corrected. But if we are not careful with our words, all that is emphasized are the character traits and habits that the youth are still working to develop. With this criticism and judgment our children tend to clam up and relationships are damaged and communication lines destroyed. Parents, of all people, should realize how difficult it is growing up. Why would anyone constantly criticize them because they are still a little rough. The next time we want to criticize or belittle one of our children, think of Uncle Ernie. Instead of criticizing, we should patiently listen to their questions and dreams and carefully teach them. Remember these youth are not born with blue prints to guide them. It is up to experienced parents to help teach them proper behavior.
Only when there is assurance of understanding and a complete lack of judgment or condemnation will children feel safe to let down their guards and really communicate. Think back on the conversations you have had with your family during the past week. Were there times when your words, expressions or the tone of your voice were used to embarrass, accuse or belittle? How did it make your children feel? Burke Peterson said: "Criticism is a destroyer of self-worth and esteem. It is demeaning and cutting." (CR, Apr. 1990, p.106.)
Each child should feel free to express pleasant emotions, such as love. Each also should learn to discuss the frustration and bitterness that may develop in day to day living. Each needs to feel secure enough to bring out and discuss how he feels and why he feels this way without fear of rejection. Acceptance requires that we value each family member as he is and not how we would like him to be. When there is assurance of understanding with no condemnation, then the groundwork is laid for progress. This understanding helps a child comprehend and accept his own behavior, problems or weaknesses. Understanding contributes to a feeling of relief that can be therapeutic. It helps build self-control, independence and confidence, the mainsprings of moral choice and decisions. As children feel their own worth, they become free to further express their feelings and questions. How many of our children are in desperate need of help, but fear asking for it? Of course, it's not just the fear of criticism that holds them back, they struggle with many other fears. For example:
Fear of Hurting Others--Some children are so constituted in their makeup that they find it very difficult to risk hurting another person. This may be due to a great need for approval from others. Such a prospect can be a traumatic thing for many. "I would like to tell Mom and Dad what it's really like being a cheerleader and the temptations I face, but I'm afraid it would hurt or frighten them if they knew how I felt."
Fear of Loss of Acceptance--Many youth think that their fears, weaknesses
and short-comings are greater than anyone else's. They feel that if these things were exposed, they would be rejected or would damage the image held by their parents. This fear is very real and intense in some. There has to be a strong assurance of acceptance and love before youth are willing to communicate to another person these deep feelings that have been carefully hidden. It is a great challenge to achieve this level of trust. What a comfort to be able to tell another the happenings in one's life that have resulted in guilt feelings and a condemnation of one's self and have the listener give the same love as before. Being accepted helps us accept ourselves, and self-acceptance is basic in generating the hope needed to change behavior.
How do we react when our children share confidences, fears or regrets? Are we judgmental? If so, there is a good chance that our children will hid feelings that need to be shared. We need to be careful not only with verbal messages that convey lack of acceptance, but the tone of voice we reply with. Many are sensitive and may misunderstand our meanings. Remember your children are a lot like the unfinished museum that Uncle Ernie criticized. They are still under construction.
One very judgmental father said the following to his teenager after being very critical of him: "Son do you know what Abraham Lincoln was doing when he was your age?" No dad I have no idea but I do know he was the President of the United States when he was your age." I challenge all of us to be less judgmental and more understanding with our children. If we will not evaluate and judge them unfairly they will be much more likely to open up and share their true feelings with us.

No comments: