We in Young Life have a culture of evaluation, which is a good thing. Our constant evaluation of ourselves and each other helps us to achieve the excellence that we strive for in our mission.
Evaluation, despite its necessary function, and good intentions, is not always well-executed, or well-received. Sometimes, when we evaluate, we do so clumsily and end up unnecessarily discouraging the person we intended to help. If evaluation doesn’t go well, the person we are evaluating feels attacked, may get defensive, and often ends up not hearing or receiving what was intended for their good.
Years ago, after speaking on a weekend camp, I was evaluated by a good friend. My talks had not gone well, and there was a lot of evaluating to be done. He evaluated my performance with rigor, but also with wisdom. Rather than telling me all the ways my talks stunk, he asked me: “Why did you put that story there?” He followed with: “The next time, think about doing it this way.” I knew he believed in me, and was working to call out the best in me. We talked for a long time, and when we were done, I learned from my mistakes in a way that helped me do better next time.
I also learned something about how to evaluate: look back, identify what was lacking, and then articulate my thoughts in a way that looks forward. Focusing only on what is already done induces regret and discouragement. Framing my feedback around “the next time” gives hope, and communicates belief in the person I’m trying to help.
The next time you are in a position of evaluating a volunteer, or another staff person, or an event, don’t just talk about what went wrong. Help everyone involved by focusing on the only time-frame about which we can do anything: the future.