Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
We will all be criticised at one time or another. Sometimes justly, sometimes unjustly. Sometimes others’ criticism of us is harsh and undeserved. Sometimes we may need it. How do we respond to criticism? It is quite a difficult topic because it’s full of emotion.
Have you ever been unfairly criticised for doing what’s right? What happened? How did you respond? It’s never fun to be on the receiving end of criticism.
Some anonymous person said: “Don’t mind criticism. If it is untrue, disregard it; if unfair, keep from irritation; if it is ignorant, smile; if it is justified, it is not criticism, learn from it.” When you are misunderstood, you’re going to have a tendency to get in there and defend yourself. When you’re attacked, your tendency is attack back—just like the rest of us. When people criticise you, you want to criticise back. When people insult you, you want to insult them back.
Very rarely are we taught how to handle criticism—our parents usually are not good role models, and the topic can be avoided. It’s too hot to handle. There is, of course, a big difference between negative and constructive criticism—although when you’re in the middle of copping it, it’s hard to tell the difference.
Constructive criticism comes from a positive place and is meant to help you better yourself. Destructive criticism is meant only to tear you down. It can be harder than you might think to discern between the two. Not all constructive criticism is delivered gently and not all destructive criticism is delivered harshly. Set aside the tone and focus on what is actually being said: is there something to be learned from the critique or are they just useless, hurtful words? Words do have a powerful effect. And there are many people walking around wounded from hurtful words thrown at them.
An approach to handle criticism
Step 1: Don’t Get Defensive
Losing your cool and criticising back isn’t good. Even if the person becomes very unreasonable and personal. I know—it’s not easy to keep your cool when someone is blatantly abusing you, but the best thing to do is take a deep breath and try to listen. Getting defensive and fighting back will just create more drama. Never respond to destructive criticism, it doesn’t warrant a reason or even an answer if you think someone is picking on you.
Step 2: Ask Questions and Try to Clarify Things
Maybe the person criticising your work just doesn’t understand it. As such, it might help if you ask questions—in a nice and calm way—so that you can help clarify the matter at hand. Perhaps, they think your work is offensive or non-representative of what you are trying to convey—there are many different cultures and attitudes to be wary of when you create something.
Step 3: Remember You Can’t Please Everybody
If the person continues to throw unreasonable attacks at you, regardless of your explanations, just remember, you aren’t going to make everyone happy in this life. Everyone has differing opinions and attitudes, you can make most people happy some of the time, but you can’t make everyone happy all of the time.
Step 4: Move On
And because these types of people are critical by nature, which means that they are inherently born with it, then there’s nothing you can do about it, but move on! Don’t take them seriously and personally. Delete hateful emails that benefit no-one and wash your hands and mind of dumb negativity. The same can be said for in-person interactions.
The Christian response to criticism
Criticism should be addressed respectfully once you’re ready to do so. Thank the person for their input and then agree or disagree as you see fit. Take the time to politely explain your reasoning, if necessary. It’s the easiest thing in the world to criticise others—but if you don’t like being criticised, don’t criticise others! It’s that simple. A lot of grief could be spared if we would learn to control our tongues.
The Bible has good advice in Colossians 4:6 (NIV) says: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone”. And 1 Peter 3:9 says, “Don’t pay back evil with evil or insult with insult, but repay the bad with a blessing”.
The Christian response to criticism is powerful indeed—try to maintain a sweet spirit. Be friendly with that critic. Agree with them. Usually there is a bit of truth in their criticism of you. Even if you can’t agree, you can say, I see what you mean. You should also thank them for their viewpoint. That takes a bit of courage, but is good and will diffuse the situation. I bet they weren’t expecting that!
Never allow criticism to embitter you. It’s never worth it. Some of it may be valid.
When Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was about to implement a plan, he showed it to his greatest critics. They, of course, usually tore it apart, explaining that it would never work. When asked why he ‘wasted his time’ allowing critics to review his plan instead of planning with a group of strategists that were sympathetic to his plan, he replied, “Because my critics help me find the weaknesses in the plan so I can correct them!”
Pray that God will give you wisdom and strength to learn from your harshest critic.