Miranda H. Lotz is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who usually serves in Primary or Relief Society. She graduated with a BA in History from BYU and has written for The Deseret News and KSL. She’s blessed to serve as a mother and as a military wife. She currently lives in the ward where she grew up.
How do we communicate more effectively with our families and in church settings? It can be challenging for some people to speak their minds; and for others, it’s hard to constantly be taking their foot out of their mouth.
The scriptures tell us that we should communicate using persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, kindness, pure knowledge, truthfulness, and love unfeigned. Doctrine and Covenants 121 goes on to say:
Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou has reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.
What does it really mean to “reprove betimes with sharpness” anyway? And is there a difference between giving feedback and reproving someone?
Reproof and Feedback
Pilots in the United States Navy and Air Force receive call signs or nicknames given to them by their peers. I asked one of my friends in the Air Force whether this was just a show of camaraderie, and he explained that after missions, all the pilots counsel together to talk about how things went. Call signs allow fellow pilots to give each other honest feedback regardless of rank. It facilitates younger officers being able to talk openly about improvements without feeling like rank is an issue.
We don’t give each other call signs in the church, but we could learn from the attitude of these pilots. When we sit in council with each other, of necessity there must be a free flow of ideas. There must be questioning, clarification, and coming back to our original plans to see what went right and what could be improved on. Participating in a council whether it’s the ward council or a presidency meeting or family night, every participant should have the chance to contribute their thoughts and to be heard and considered regardless of “rank”.
In order for any group of people to successfully communicate by giving and receiving feedback, there has to be an underlying belief in the goodwill of the group and a unifying desire to improve.
When leaders actively ask for input on a one-on-one basis from other people in their organizations, receiving both reproof and feedback, they begin to build that rapport that is the basis of trusting communication.
So, what is reproof? And what does it mean to reprove betimes with sharpness?
To reprove is to give correction to someone about their words or actions and it should be done in private as often as possible.
Betimes has been used traditionally to mean quickly, but another meaning of it is infrequently or occasionally. And sharpness would indicate precision, clarity, and delicacy.
My daughter was born with a rare genetic deletion. She’s missing the gene that stops tumor growth. So, she has tumors in many of her major organs including her brain. She had her first brain surgery at just 14 months old. When my daughter had brain surgery, we did not want her surgeon to be blunt. We wanted him to be precise and carefully excise the tumor from her healthy brain tissue as delicately as he could. We hoped he would use the sharpest instruments possible to avoid any unnecessary damage.
Giving precise, personal correction, only occasionally—when moved upon by the Spirit—is the proper way to give reproof whether we’re addressing people who we have stewardship over or who have stewardship over us.
Our Full Worth
Many people are hesitant to speak evil of the Lord’s anointed, and rightly so. However, the goal of deciding to not speak ill of another does not mean that we don’t address them personally when hurt feelings or problems arise. It means more specifically that we DO address them personally rather than letting things fester and seethe under the surface, murmuring our discontent to others instead of addressing the individual who can actually change. And then, of course, we must show an outpouring of love to the individual we’ve corrected because it’s easy to feel rejected and abandoned when you’ve been corrected.
Hearing that we can do better is really difficult for Latter-day Saints. We’re all trying so hard to be disciples of Jesus Christ. It can feel like the choices that we make must be good because they’re coming from our well-intentioned hearts. And when we hear that the consequences of our choices maybe weren’t as efficacious as we hoped them to be, we can sometimes feel like WE are bad because outcomes were poor.
Unfortunately, we’ve adopted a misbelief that when we do things that are wrong our value diminishes.
President Uchtdorf addressed this falsehood in his talk Love and Patience (May 2010), when he taught that like an old twenty-dollar bill, we may be marred, creased, and a little ragged from life, but we are still worth the full twenty dollars. None of the actions we take or fail to take diminish our full worth in the sight of God!
“We cannot gauge the worth of another soul any more than we can measure the span of the universe. Every person we meet is a VIP to our Heavenly Father. Once we understand that, we can begin to understand how we should treat our fellowmen…I hope that we welcome and love all of God’s children, including those who might dress, look, speak, or just do things differently. It is not good to make others feel as though they are deficient.”
Feedback – How Good We Can Become
The goal of giving feedback, or reproof for that matter, is not to make others see how bad things went or how poorly they did. It’s to help them see how good they can become.
Receiving feedback has to come from the same headspace. When we are given personal correction (or negative feedback about a project, activity, or interaction we had) we desperately need to remember our inherent value.
We have to divorce our self-worth from the outcomes of our actions. We are 100% children of God. None of our actions, mis-actions, or non-actions can improve or diminish our value. It’s just not possible.
When we know our worth, then we’re less worried about protecting our “good” ideas and proving that they’re right. We are not our ideas. We are children of God. Our ideas are just suggestions. Sometimes they’ll be utilized and sometimes they won’t. That doesn’t mean that sometimes we’re good and sometimes we’re not. And it doesn’t mean that the leaders who selected them sometimes care about us and sometimes don’t.
When we step back and understand our divine nature and the value of others around us, we’ll be slower to want to correct others and quicker to change when we receive feedback.
Humbly Offering Our Perspective
We should remember that feedback, personal reproof, and unsolicited advice are all forms of criticism, and we should be filled with gentleness, meekness, kindness, and love unfeigned before we speak. We should also remember that we probably don’t have all the knowledge of the situation and should be humble too as we offer our perspectives.
The number one detractor from giving effective feedback is a sense of defensiveness that comes when people don’t feel heard or valued. The top inhibitor of receiving feedback is perfectionism.
Both barriers stem from feeling inadequate and trying to prove ourselves instead of knowing our worth comes from God.
The closer we get to God, the more we want to change for the better, the more we’re able to see the good in others, and the easier giving and receiving feedback becomes.