Our ability to take criticism can make us or break us. No one is indifferent to criticism; it causes us to respond either positively or negatively. The foundational truth regarding criticism is this: If you want to do great things for God there will always be someone who doesn’t like what you are doing and who will become a critic of you and your ministry.
Taking a Positive Approach
I read the story about a critical, negative barber who never had a pleasant thing to say. A salesman came in for a haircut and mentioned that he was about to make a trip to Rome, Italy. “What airline are you taking and at what hotel will you be staying? asked the barber.
When the salesman told him, the barber criticized the airline for being undependable and the hotel for having horrible service. “You’d be better off to stay home, “ he advises.
“But I expect to close a big deal. Then I’m going to see the Pope,” said the salesman.
“You’ll be disappointed trying to do business in Italy,” said the barber. “And don’t count on seeing the Pope. He only grants audiences to very important people.”
Two months later the salesman returned to the barber shop. “And how was your trip?” asked the barber.
“Wonderful!” Replied the salesman. “The flight was perfect, the service at the hotel was excellent; I made a big sale, and I got to see the Pope.”
“You got to see the Pope? What happened?”
The salesman replied, “I bent down and kissed his ring.”
“No kidding! What did he say?”
“Well, he placed his hand on my head and then he said to me, “My son, where did you ever get such a lousy haircut?”
There’s a saying that What goes around comes around.” This is especially true in the area of attitudes. If you are a critical, negative person, life will treat you badly. On the other hand, if you have a positive, joyous outlook, the joy you share will be returned to you.
There are two kinds of people who are highly subject to criticism. The first group are the leaders. Aristotle said it well, “Criticism is something you can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” Yes, one of the costs of leadership is criticism. If you’re willing to stand apart from the crowd, you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position, so count on some degree of criticism. When you are willing to stick your neck out, someone will want to chop it off.
Besides leaders the other group of individuals who are prone to criticism are the “leaders,” people who leap into the public eye because they are change agents. They bring unwelcome and uncomfortable change into people’s lives even though it usually is for their benefit.
In the closing years of John Wesley’s life he became a friend of William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a great champion of freedom for slaves. He was subjected to a vicious campaign by slave traders and others whose powerful commercial interests were threatened. Rumours were spread that he was a wife-beater. His character, his morals, and motives were repeatedly smeared during some twenty years of pitched battles.
From his deathbed, John Wesley wrote to Wilberforce, “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils; but if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? Be not weary in well-doing.” Willian Wilberforce never forgot those words of John Wesley. They kept him going even when all the forces of hell were arrayed against him.
The question for leaders and leapers is not, “Will I be confronted by criticism?” But “How van I handle and learn from criticism and confrontation?” It is possible to learn how to take critics successfully, and we will be examining ten suggestions that can help you help yourself to benefit from criticism when it comes your way.
To grow through criticism there are some things to note…
1> Understand the difference between constructive and destructive criticism.
You need to learn how to interpret criticism. Is it positive criticism to build you up or negative to tear you down? Someone once said that constructive criticism is when I criticize you; destructive criticism is when you criticize me.
To determine the motive behind the confrontation, ask yourself some questions.
A> In what spirit is it given? Look behind the words and determine the motives. Is the critic projecting a gentle attitude or a judgmental attitude? If your critic’s attitude is kind, you can rest assured that the criticism is meant to be constructive.
B> When is the criticism given? Times of confrontation must be shared privately, not within public view or hearing. If a person criticizes someone publicly, you can be sure his or her intentions are not the best. They are out to destroy and not to build.
C> Why is the criticism given? This question deals with the attitude of the critic. Is it for personal benefit and growth, or is it given from personal hurt? Sometimes the person who has experienced difficulties and problems will deal with others in a negative, critical way.
2> Don’t take yourself too seriously.
If you can develop the ability to laugh at yourself, you will be much more relaxed when given or giving criticism. Face it, we all do some stupid and silly things. Blessed is he who can enjoy his blunders. We are approved by God; we don’t have to win the approval of others and look good in their eyes. We are not perfect people. Too many of us take ourselves too seriously and God not seriously enough.
3> Look beyond the criticism and see the critic.
When someone comes to me with news about another person, I am more interested in the person who said it than what was said. In fact, that’s one of my first questions: Who said it? Who told you that? When I find out who the perpetrator is, I know whether or not to listen. I will either straighten up and take it seriously or I will think to myself, “There they go again.”
Keep in mind certain considerations regarding your critic: First, is it someone whose character you respect? Adverse criticism from a wise man is more to be desired than the enthusiastic approval of a fool. Second, is this person frequently critical? Is criticism a pattern? If so, don’t place too much value in what they say. Possibly it’s a way to get attention. Criticism from a positive person, on the other hand, probably deserves your attention.
Finally, ask yourself this question: Does the critic sincerely want to help me? Remember that people who are busy rowing seldom have time to rock the boat.
4> Watch your own attitude towards the critic.
A negative attitude toward criticism can be more destructive than the criticism itself. Remember, a chip on the shoulder indicates wood higher up! Someone once said, “When you are being run out of town, get to the head of the line and look as though you are leading the parade.” In other words, maintain a positive attitude towards the critic.
1 Peter 2:21-23 provides the right attitude toward criticism:
“This suffering is all part of the work God has given you. Christ, who suffered for you, is your example. Follow in his steps: He never sinned, never told a lie, never answered back when insulted; when he suffered he did not threaten to get even; he left his case in the hands of God who always judges fairly.”
Could it be that a poor attitude reveals the fact that we have trusted in ourselves, rather than in God who knows the entire situation? If we are trusting Him and are obedient, we can expect some criticism. He often calls us to take an unpopular stand. He has also called us to love those who are critical of us.
We are looking at “tips for taking criticism” and we have seen:
1> Understand the difference between constructive and destructive criticism
2> Don’t take yourself too seriously
3> Look beyond the criticism and see the critic
4> Watch your own attitude toward the critic
5> Realize that good people get criticized.
Jesus, those motives were pure and character was spotless was called a glutton (Matthew 11:19); a winebibber – drunk (Luke 7:34); a Samaritan (John 8:48); a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19 and Mark 2:16). If our lives are Christlike we can expect criticism. In fact, there are times when we should see criticism from the world as verification that our lives have been changed. A person whose mind is polluted and whose vision is not clear cannot understand or interpret behaviour based on obedience to God. So if you’re living on a higher plane than the world, expect some criticism.
6> Keep physically and spiritually in shape.
Physical exhaustion has a tremendous effect on the way we act and react; it distorts the way we see and handle life. Elijah succumbed to opposition when he was in a state of weariness. Jezebel was a firecracker, and her opposition sapped the preacher’s strength. Elijah complained, “It is enough, now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). Elijah was completely shaken. Watch weariness because Satan will take advantage. When we become overly tired, we can become overly critical, and at the same time we are less able to handle criticism from others.
7> Don’t just see the critic; see if there’s a crowd.
The following story illustrates this point. Mrs. Jones had invited a great and well-known violinist to entertain at her afternoon tea. When it was all over, everyone crowded around the musician.
“I’ve got to be honest with you,” said one of the guests, “I think your performance was absolutely terrible.”
Hearing his criticism, the hostess interposed: “Don’t pay any attention to him. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He only repeats what he hears everyone else say.”
I’m suggesting that you expand your vision; go beyond the critic and see if he has a cheering section. Consider the possibility that you are hearing the same criticism from several people. If this is the case, and the critics are reliable, you need to realize that you have a challenge to work on. If, on the other hand, you’re dealing with a pocket group of negative people, your challenge is to not be affected by them.
George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright, certainly had his critics, but he knew how to handle them. After one opening, a critic voiced his displeasure. He said, “It’s rotten! It’s rotten!” To which Shaw replied, “I agree with you perfectly, but what are we two against so many?”
8> Wait for time to prove them wrong.
Time is your best ally; it allows you to prove yourself right. Often, as events unfold, the cause for criticism is eliminated and you will be vindicated. You may be thinking, “ Easy for you to say, but you’re not where I am.” But I have been there many times. If you know your action or decision was right, hang in there. Time will prove you out.
Abraham Lincoln, the most loved president of the united States, was also the most criticized president. Probably no politician in history had worse things said about him. Here’s how the Chicago Times in 1865 evaluated Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address the day after he delivered it. “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dish-watery utterances of a man who has been pointed out to intelligent foreigners as President of the United States.” Time, of course, has proved the scathing criticism wrong.
9> Surround yourself with positive people.
When you have optional time, spend it with people who will build you up. Enough quality time with positive people will minimize the effect of negative criticism in your life. It will also discourage you from being critical. When a hawk is attacked by crows, he does not counterattack. Instead, he soars higher and higher in ever widening circles until the pests leave him alone. Circle above your adversaries rather than battle with them. If your positive attitude has any effect on negative people, it will be because of your example, not your defensiveness. So rise above them. It really is hard to soar like an eagle if you identify with the turkeys!
10> Concentrate on your task or mission — change your mistakes.
Most people do exactly the opposite — they change their mission and concentrate on their mistakes. If you run from your task each time you make a mistake, you will never accomplish anything. You will always be in a state of frustration and defeat. The only real mistakes in life are the mistakes from which we learn nothing. So instead of dwelling on them, count on making them, learning from them, and moving on to finish the job. There’s an Arabian proverb they says if you stop every time a dog barks, your road will never end. Don’t let your mistakes become roadblocks; make them building blocks.
In order to build strong relationships you need to know how to take criticism graceful, but there are also times when you will have to be the critic. It is possible to confront without ruining a relationship, but use caution, because careless confrontation can be devastating. Before you confront and be critical, check yourself in the following areas.
TEN TIPS FOR GIVING CRITICISM
1> Check your motive.
The goal of confrontation should be to help, not to humiliate. Three key questions will help you expose your true motives. So ask yourself:
A> Would I criticize this is it were not a personal matter? Sometime we react differently when we are emotionally or personally involved.
B> Will criticism make me look better? Cutting someone down to boost yourself up is the lowest form of ego gratification. It’s the sign of a very insecure person. Remember that it isn’t necessary to blow out another person’s light to let your own shine.
C> Does this criticism bring pain our pleasure to me? When it is painful for you to criticize others, you are probably safe in doing it. If you get the slightest bit of pleasure out of doing it, you should hold your tongue.
2> Make sure the issue is worthy of criticism.
To whom does it really matter? Sometimes our pride causes us to engage in skirmishes that need never happen. Continual, petty criticism is the mark of a small mind; you have to be little to belittle. The secret to not letting yourself be distracted and needled by insignificant issues is to keep your head up and your eyes on the goal.
3> Be specific.
When you confront you must be tactfully explicit. Say exactly what you mean and provide examples to back yourself up. If you can’t be specific, don’t confront. People can usually tell when you are skirting an issue and will not respect you for it.
4> Don’t undermine the person’s self-confidence.
Try to find at least one area in which you can praise the person before you expose the problem. Stay away from all-inclusive statements like, “You always…” or “You never…” Assure them that you have confidence in them and their ability to handle the situation correctly.
5> Don’t compare one person with another.
Deal with people on an individual basis. Comparisons always cause resentment and resentment causes hostility. There’s no need to create a bigger problem than the one you already have, so why arouse heated emotions? If you stick to the facts, you’ll be less likely to put the person on the defensive.
Reviewing: TEN TIPS FOR GIVING CRITICISM
1> Check your motive.
2> Make sure the issue is worthy of criticism.
3> Be specific.
4> Don’t undermine the person’s self-confidence.
5> Don’t compare one person with another.
6> Be creative or don’t confront.
Will Rogers said, “There is nothing as easy as denouncing. It doesn’t take much to see something is wrong, but it does take some eyesight to see what will put it right again.”
Look beyond the problem and see if you can help find some solutions. For most of us it’s much easier to be critical than to be creative. But unless you’re willing to help to some degree in turning the situation around, you’re not ready to comment on the problem.
7> Attack the problem not the person.
Deal with the issue at hand. When a confrontation becomes a personal attack you destroy your own credibility and find yourself in a no-win situation. The expected outcome of a confrontation should be that the offender leave with a clear understanding of the problem and the hope that he can turn it around.
8> Confront when the time is right.
The right time is just as soon as you know something is wrong. When you’ve completed your homework then you’re prepared. Sometimes people tell me about their relationship problems and ask me for advice. The scenario is always the same and so is my advice: You cannot escape the need to talk to the person. When you wait too long you lose the opportune moment and the issue becomes history. When you confront the person in a timely fashion you are better able to keep the facts straight and use the incident as an opportunity to help the person grow.
9> Look at yourself before looking at others.
Instead of putting others in their place, put yourself in their place. Have you successfully done what you’re accusing the other guy of failing to do? Look at things from his point of view. You may see that you’re the one who needs to make changes.
10> End confrontation with encouragement.
Always give confrontation the “sandwich treatment.” Sandwich the criticism between praise at the beginning and encouragement at the end. To leave a discouraged person without hope is cruel and vindictive. Goeth, the German poet said, “Correction does much, but encouragement does more. Encouragement after censure is as the sun after a shower.”
A mentor of mine taught me to simplify things as much as possible. He showed me that there are various ways people will respond to confrontation.
- BYE. The ‘bye” people never profit from confrontation; they don’t hang around long enough. Their egos are too fragile.
- SPY. Spies become suspicious of everyone. They begin an investigation to find out who in the organization is out to get them. Often they will avoid risking a failure again.
- FRY. Some people will simply get mad and either fly off at the handle or do a slow burn.
- LIE. The liar has an excuse for every mistake. Therefore he never faces up to the reality of his situation.
- CRY. Cry babies are overly sensitive and become hurt by confrontation. Unlike the “bye” people, cries hang around in hopes that people will see how mistreated they are and sympathize with them. They have a martyr complex.
- SIGH. These people have a “That’s-too-bad,-but-there’s-nothing-I-can-do-about-it” attitude.They don’t accept any responsibility for making right the wrong.
- FLY. This category of people takes criticism and flies with it. They learn from it and become better because of it.
Which category has fit you in the past? Are there changes you need to make before you can take criticism and fly with it? I challenge you to start today.