“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” Frank A. Clark
How can we respond well to criticism?
After being on the receiving end of some criticism at the end of last week, which I initially found very difficult to take, I’ve been considering this question.
It’s never going to be easy but I think there are some steps we can take to help us respond well.
Be aware of how you instinctively react to criticism- We all have different natural responses- for example, I know that my first response is often to get defensive and emotional or just to shut down. I need to step away from the situation and have time and space to process things. Then I will react in a healthier way, but I need the time and space in order to be able to reach that point.
Separate where you are reacting to the current situation from where you are reacting to something else- I realised that my reaction was partly towards the present situation but that it was also tied up in bad experiences of a very critical environment in the past, a struggle with a feeling of worthlessness that has been a constant battle lately and the fact that I was over-tired. I needed to separate that out in my mind to be able to look at the situation more objectively.
Take it to God- It helps to be honest about what has been said and how we feel, and to seek God’s perspective. It’s important to be reminded that, whether the criticism is fair or not, our value comes from our identity in Christ, not from other people’s opinion or reaching a certain standard.
Weigh up the criticism- It may only be one person’s opinion after all. As I considered the criticism I received, a few things stood out to me. Some of it was relating to areas that I have really worked hard on- where I know I have made a lot of progress. That is one reason why the criticism hurt so much. I know there is still a lot of work to be done but it discouraged me and triggered my insecurities to be criticised when I know I have made such an effort and improved so much. I knew the person criticising me was not aware of this though and would probably have dealt with the situation differently if he had been. As I reflected I also felt that parts of the criticism were unfair- not intentionally, but that some comments were made without full knowledge of the situation.
Learn from it– Even when criticism is given in an unhelpful way and parts of it may be unfair, there can still be truth in it. It is easy to be blinded by the emotion and the feeling of injustice and to lose the fact that parts of it might actually be true and there may be things we should change. We all have our blind spots where we can’t see things that are glaringly obvious to others, and we do need to take their feedback and perspective on board in order to learn and grow.
See the heart behind the criticism- I know that the person criticising me had good intentions. Our personalities are polar opposites and because of that we often struggle to understand one another. Almost the only thing we have in common is our faith in Jesus, which definitely helps, but doesn’t make it easy. He is the sort of person who thrives on criticism and actively seeks it, whereas I need encouragement. I don’t do well in an environment where there is criticism without there also being encouragement, and that was part of the problem- it felt like my strengths were being completely ignored and my weaknesses highlighted. But I also know that it was mainly down to a difference in style and personality rather than it being intentional.
Remember that criticism can be a positive thing- If it is constructive and we can find a godly perspective on it and take action, it can be a useful tool to help us grow and develop.
As Matthew Gray Gubler put it: “Take criticism, smash it into dust. Add color and use it to paint breathtaking images of unicorns frolicking through endless fields of greatness.” 😀
But let’s give the final words on the topic to Solomon:
“Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:6)
“If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.” (Proverbs 15:31)
I also wanted to let you know not to be alarmed if my blogging is a bit more sporadic over the next couple of months. I will be away with work a bit, and I also need some more time for journalling and processing as part of an online book study I am doing. I am not planning to take a break as such, but realistically I may not have quite so much time to spend on blogging or visiting others’ posts. Unless I am away, I plan to at least post each week for Five Minute Friday.