By ROY W. HARRIS
Criticism is part of life. It may come from those who love us most or those who may not even like us. It may arrive like cold water poured on the flames of a great success or like the stinging of salt in the open wound of a setback. Have you ever seen a name pop up on your Caller ID and think, “Oh no, what is it this time?” It almost seems that some people have the gift of criticism and feel they should exercise it at every opportunity.
Regardless of whether it is justified or not, receiving criticism is not normally a pleasant experience. How should we respond when we are criticized? Criticism offered with the right attitude and done in the right way can be a good thing. Criticism, when done in a constructive way to help us, may actually suggest ways to save us problems and create better situations for us.
While serving in my first pastorate, our church was growing, and we desperately needed more room. Our church had a preschool, and we were in the process of expanding into a full-blown Christian School. We formed the appropriate committees and made plans to construct a new educational building and cafeteria/fellowship hall. One committee member failed to attend any planning sessions and showed up at the final session shortly before the plans were to be presented to the church. After he’d looked over the plans, I asked him, “How do you like the plans?” He responded, “I don’t.”
My young pastoral fervor got the best of me, and I snapped back, “What don’t you like about them?” It upset me that he failed to attend a single planning session, and now he wanted to criticize the committee’s work. He then showed me a major flaw in the plans. The restrooms were where the offices needed to be and vise/versa. He was absolutely right. We changed the plans and built the new building. I learned a valuable lesson from that experience about the value of criticism.
How do you react when you are criticized? Below are four simple steps which may be helpful.
Step 1 – LISTEN to it. Have you been introduced to someone you didn’t know and became so busy thinking about what you should say and shaking the person’s hand that you totally missed the person’s name? A similar thing can happen when we hear criticism. We sometimes throw up barriers because of who is delivering the criticism or simply because we are being criticized. We need to hold our tongues and listen to the details of the criticism before we speak. This does two things: It helps us gain a better understanding of what we are dealing with, and it provides an opportunity for others to be heard. Even if you choose not to respond in the way others feel you should, they will feel that they’ve had a hearing. Many times just letting folks get it off their chests is all that is needed.
Step 2 – LOOK at it. Once you’ve heard the criticism, thank the person for bringing it to your attention and tell them that you will certainly give it some thought. Then seriously examine the criticism/suggestion. Look at the merits of the criticism. Is this a valid criticism? Is there a problem that should be addressed? Are there changes which should be made? Is this person’s suggestion the right way to go? You will then know if you should accept or reject the criticism.
Step 3 – LEARN from it. If you determine the criticism to be a valid one, and the suggestions for change good ones, then don’t let your pride hinder you from doing what your gut tells you that you should. Make the changes. Move in another direction. Implement a new procedure. Stop this or start that. We never reach the place that we cannot learn from others.
Step 4 – LIVE above it. After you’ve LISTENED to it, LOOKED at it, LEARNED from it, and the criticism is unjust or not valid, what should you do? Choose simply to LIVE above it. Sometimes the best response is not to respond at all. Do not spend a great deal of time rehashing the matter. Move on with life. File the criticism in the back of your mental filing cabinet and leave it there. Take the high road and continue doing what you’re doing.
CRITICISM – Who Needs It? Criticism is part of life. It will come in times of great success and also great disappointment. It can be valid, but it can also be bogus. It can be helpful and also hurtful. However it may come, we should do our best to handle it well.