Handling Criticism

criticismI take a lot of pride in my work and try to give 110% in everything I do. That’s good. But I also tend to invest my ego into what I do. That’s not good. I have a history of responding poorly to criticism. When criticized I’ve often struggled with anger and defensiveness, making me less approachable. And being unapproachable is leadership cancer. It’ll slowly blind you and kill your effectiveness. 

I’ve been working on this issue and am beginning to see some daylight. I thought I’d share some of the strategies that are working for me in case you struggle with criticism too.

Separate your performance from your being. The root of defensiveness is often confusion between doing and being. You are not a human doing; you are a human being. Criticism is not at attack on who you are. God created you and declared you “good” before you ever did a thing. Criticism won’t change that.

Focus on the heart of the source. I learned this one from my colleague, Pastor Paul Gauche. When you face criticism focus your attention on what’s going on in the critic’s heart. Sometimes you’ll find fear and pain behind a critic’s words. In fact, I’ve found that the harsher the critic’s words the more likely it is that they’re afraid or in pain. Seeing that can soften your heart and empower you to respond in ways that heal.

When you hear criticism, think information. One of the great benefits of criticism is the opportunity to learn and improve performance. Rather than react with emotion try to focus on what you can learn from criticism.

Rehearse. If you’re trying to break a habit of defensive reactivity it’s surprisingly helpful to rehearse in your mind how you want to respond. Imagine yourself being confronted by a critic. Envision yourself taking a deep breath and telling yourself to stay calm. Imagine yourself focusing on what you can learn from the criticism. See yourself smiling, nodding, asking questions and even thanking the critic for their feedback. Decide in advance what you’ll do if you start to feel anger rising.

Meditate. Regular meditation helps create “space” between what you experience and how you react, enough space to allow you to take a breath and respond more appropriately to criticism. My spiritual director taught me to bring this desire to the beginning of my centering prayer practice. I simply pray, “Lord, I want to respond better to criticism. In this time of silent meditation please heal what’s broken within me.” It’s been remarkable how helpful this has been.

Find criticism hard to take? Then take action. Choose one or more of these strategies and try it for a while. I’d love to hear what works for you, so leave a comment along with other strategies that you have found effective. But please don’t criticize this blog!

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