Maureen Pratt

Maureen Pratt

You’ve probably heard the familiar: “We care about what you think.”

You’ve seen or heard it nearly every day via telephone, online or in commercial surveys. Companies gather the feedback forms in a variety of ways and the possibilities of making ourselves heard appears to be endless — and, perhaps, too tempting.

Just as leaving feedback has become a daily possibility, so, too, has making that feedback colorful and, perhaps, more hurtful than warranted.

Mix a frustrated consumer with a long wait time and we have the perfect storm. Angry words can rain down mercilessly on the unsuspecting (and often uninformed) customer service representative on the other end. An “untrained” call center worker can become “stupid,” for example, and the words can sting long after any call is ended.

Whether giving feedback to a business or a family member or a friend, the craft of giving criticism can be tricky. My university postgraduate courses taught me the dynamics of give, take, dissect and rebuild.

Does tearing someone down help in any form? Does honesty need to be brutal? Is it possible to express dissatisfaction without anger, and dislike or dissatisfaction without making it seem like an attack?

One of the most important things to keep in mind when giving an opinion is to make any comments, especially criticism, helpful. State the problem and then offer a solution. Be the answer, not the antagonist.

Also, remember there are people involved. If you find yourself becoming upset, try to picture that person with a family, perhaps children or a sick older parent. This will help foster compassion.

Remember, too, that words have power and often a specific impact. Keep your intent in mind: help, don’t hurt. At all times, make your impact positive. Lift up a brief prayer before speaking. It’s hard to be angry when you invite God into the conversation.

Also, allow time to pass between the incident and when you offer feedback. It’s easier to think about the situation or view the incident differently after things have settled. It can help you be objective.

Last year, I had a bad experience at a hotel. The survey, sent by the hotel, allowed me to list each of the many problems that had arisen throughout my stay. Curiously, there was no place to indicate anything good.

Along with my list of grievances, I had kept a list of the names of hotel employees who had been helpful. I wrote a note suggesting that in the survey, hotel management also include a place for people to say positive things about their experiences — especially about experiences with the staff.

To my surprise, I received a personal note from one of the hotel managers, telling me that they appreciated my comment and would include such a space in subsequent surveys.

We have been given wonderful minds to help us think and hearts that feel. Our opinions are of value. But the more we seek to be compassionate with our views, truthful but not terrible, the more effective will be our Christian walk — and the more livable and bright will be our world.