Communication Leadership

Dealing with Criticism: 3 Rules

June 20, 2019

I have become convinced that there is a class of people, at least in Catholic culture, who truly believe their spiritual gift is complaint, and that their contribution to the body of Christ is criticism.  Self-proclaimed liturgists, theologians, and canon lawers who take it upon themselves to police the rest of us who are actually doing something.

Criticism has only gotten more pronounced, more acerbic, less responsible, as technology connects us in new ways.  Traditionally limited to those who care enough to show up, social media has extended the privilege of complaining to anyone with a computer.  And worse, that criticism is often anonymous and scathing.

It is understandable that most of us take criticism personally.  Even what can be intended as a critique of ideas is almost always interpreted as an attack on our very selves.  Psychologists have shown that the part of our brains that processes criticism is the same part that regulates the “fight or flight” response.  We all can think of a time where we received criticism and immediately became defensive, even when we knew we were in the wrong.  Reactions such as these can cause us to alienate ourselves from our teammates or guests and fail to recognize the hurts of others.  When we respond emotionally, we make things worse.

So, how can we better deal with criticism?

1. Never Respond Immediately

It sounds easy.  But, in the heat of the moment, our brains tell us to put up a fight.  Reacting defensively and emotionally will almost always make things worse.  A defensive posture can make us look emotionally imbalanced and even weak. And an immediate reaction is hardly ever going to be our best or strongest reaction.

2. Find the Truth

Even the harshest critiques can sometimes include a scrap of truth.  Good leaders grow by assuming the best intentions and searching for the truth.  If you can’t find anything useful, ask a friend or advisor.  They may have another perspective you hadn’t been able to see. Use the pain of criticism to learn and grow.

3. Respond Relationally

When the times comes to respond to your critic, make an effort to respond in a way that is personal, even if your critic wasn’t.  If they emailed you, call them.  If they rebuked you in public, take them to a private lunch.  More often than not, responding personally will disarm the critic and diffuse the situation.

For another and more complete take on this check out Carey Nieuwhof’s blog at:

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