All of us have faced criticism.
Maybe you wilted under the negative words of a childhood teacher. Perhaps your father was harsh and judgmental. Or maybe you suffered from cutting peer comments as a teenager. Criticism can wither our spirits and kill our confidence. But if viewed with an open, inquisitive heart, criticism can also positively teach us a great deal about others and ourselves. If we respond wisely, correction can be a conduit to personal insight and growth.
The School of Hard Knocks taught me that my first reaction to criticism is often to put up a wall of defense. I prefer not to listen to hard things about me—who does? But this tactic prevents me from listening and honestly evaluating what’s being said.
Over the years I’ve learned the following lessons about responding to criticism.
Listen with an open mind.
When we’re corrected, criticized, evaluated, or confronted, our spirit (emotions) reacts protectively.
- We refute.
- We argue.
- We explain.
- We blame.
- We justify.
- We take a defensive stance.
Why? Because we feel attacked. Criticism, correction, and anger stir our emotions. These emotions in themselves aren’t wrong; the difficulty comes with how we handle how we feel. What motives do we allow to control our thoughts?
I’ll show them.
No way, not me!
Fear and suspicion?
They’re probably getting ready to fire me.
Marybeth is probably behind this.
They’ve always had it in for me.
I knew I’d mess this up.
They can’t do this to me. I’m not letting them get away with this.
Oh yeah, they don’t know who they’re messing with.
Listen actively. If a group is speaking to you, observe their demeanor and attitude, as well as their words. Do they appear angry? Betrayed? Disrespected? Do they feel you have let them down in some way? What reasons are they stating for their position? What actions on your part may have contributed to these feelings?
Ask questions to promote clarity and insight.
Respond positively to those speaking to you.
Provide feedback but do not argue.
Promote emotional safety with your tone, body language, and word choice.
Put away all distractions like cell phones, tablets, laptops.
Ask clarifying questions.
When someone comes to you with criticism, correction, or even anger, don’t react emotionally. Work through your emotions later. Prayerfully determine to listen with an open mind.
- Don’t refute.
- Don’t argue.
- Don’t blame.
- Don’t justify.
- Don’t defend.
Listen for the core issues. Communicate sincerity with your body language and eye contact. Write down their concerns.
Accept correction with a humble heart.
Our first reaction is typically to recoil and defend ourselves. But no one is perfect, and we’re usually blind to our biggest flaws. Ask God for a humble spirit and to give you insight into your words, actions, and motives. We often have multiple motives, and while we may do something for a good reason, a selfish motive may also be present.
Be honest with yourself and God and keep your heart focused on repentance, reconciliation, and renewed thinking.
Pray about the offense/s.
Take time to read through the feedback and pray about it. Examine your words, actions, and motives. Be brutally honest with yourself. What about your words and actions led this person or these individuals to see you in this way? What are you responsible for? How could you have acted more appropriately in this circumstance? Are you willing to acknowledge responsibility for thoughtless or hurtful behavior? What has the Holy Spirit revealed to you about you and the steps you should take?
Be eager to grow and change.
Pastor Emeritus Louie Konopka of Blythefield Hills Baptist Church in Rockford, Michigan often says, “The greatest day in your life is the day you face yourself and see yourself as God sees you. This is the day God can begin to change you.”
I’ve had three such days in my life. Each began with painful rebuke. And each was the threshold of a period of transformational growth. When the 3rd occasion came, I’d learned to embrace the confrontation as another opportunity for spiritual growth.
Don’t cower before correction and criticism. Respond to them as instruments of self-reflection, self-discovery, and spiritual growth.
“As for you [Satan], you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good . . .”
How have you handled criticism and used it for personal growth? I’d love to hear from you.
Stay tuned for the next blog on criticism: When Criticism Turns Toxic