This last week, I received some constructive criticism from my wife, Sara. It was about my preaching. I don’t need to go into any of the details, but I want to talk about my response to her critique.
Although I had heard numerous positive comments about my preaching lately, I honestly forget the specifics of most them, while I remember every detail of the critique.
Why do we remember negative comments (even if they are intended to have a positive outcome) so much more than positive ones? Are we simply hard-wired to pay more attention to the negative stimuli we take in?
I wish I could say that I respond appropriately to criticism. However, I often get defensive and create a slew of excuses. I also enjoy passing the blame on to others, pointing out their faults as well. None of this is helpful.
While I’ve been reflecting upon this over the last week, I’ve come up with three more healthy responses to criticism that I need to employ more frequently.
1. Pause. This is the first line of defense against escalating the situation. Instead of blurting out the first comment that comes to your mind, take a few breaths, digest the comment that you’ve heard, and ask yourself what the person is trying to communicate to you. Too often I volley a knee-jerk reaction the other way instead of actually hearing the entirety of the criticism. There might be a part of it that will help me understand why my action was perceived negatively or how I can improve.
2. Pray. I wish I did this more often. Through prayer we humble ourselves. We submit ourselves to God’s will, being open to his direction. As we pray, we are convicted and made aware of our growing edges. Honestly taking the criticism to God in prayer will help us take off any blinders we may have that prevent us from seeing what others see in us.
3. Be positive. I cannot emphasize this one enough. Why do we always take criticism personally? What if somebody who cares about us actually does have our best interest in mind, and they think their comment is for our own good?
We already face enough antagonism and struggle in life. What good does it do to assume that those who criticize us are against us? The last thing we need is to create perceived enemies who don’t exist.
Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they have your best interest in mind until they prove otherwise. You might be surprised. I often find that when I do this, I am able to more effectively see why people complain and what needs they have. I am also better able to let the complaint roll off me. I don’t take it as a personal attack if I believe the person is in my corner.
Now, I don’t pretend to have a perfect handle on this. These are simply some reflections I’ve gathered over the past week.
What tips do you have for better handling criticism? How do you discern whether criticism is healthy or not?