Make Criticism Manageable

Mild criticism stings.

Harsh criticism, especially seemingly unwarranted criticism by someone we love, serve, and sacrifice for, cuts very deeply indeed and can leave  behind the poison of discouragement aching in an open wound.

Pastors tell me that criticism is one the most distressing and discouraging realities of pastoral ministries. Yet, a leader cannot avoid some criticism.

A psychologically healthy and emotionally intelligent response to criticism swings on three hinges: how one reframes the criticism, responds to the criticism, and ultimately resolves criticism.

Your mental reframe of the criticism can make a huge difference in its effect upon you. If one views criticism, for example, as a personal threat, a sign of failure, or proof that others are “impossible”, then stress, anger and dysfunctional responses may result. Try, instead, to view the criticism as an opportunity or challenge rather than a threat. It can be reframed as an opportunity for growth or a challenge to manage it successfully. Remind yourself that all leaders will face some criticism. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing a good job.  

Respond to criticism with de-escalating techniques. Statements such as, “Tell me more” and the use of reflective listening can defuse the critic’s negativity and increase the likelihood that you will identify the critics underlying concerns or fears. An appropriate response to criticism goes a long way to making it manageable.

Ultimately, you must resolve critical statements and your feelings about them. Your options:  dismiss the criticism, harbor it, mine it, leverage it, and ultimately, dispense with it.

Dismissing the criticism may be appropriate when you’ve determined the criticism is irrelevant to you and may simply be a reflection of the other person’s issues. It’s simply not worth the time to think about it.

Harboring the criticism can lead to discouragement, depression, and bitterness. Generally, not a good option.

Mining beats harboring. Criticism can be “mined” for nuggets of truth, no matter the sludge they are buried in.  Ask yourself, “Is there something I can learn from this? Is it possible others may actually agree with my critic?”

Leverage criticism by examining it and planning a way to respond that will result in your personal growth, the growth of the critic, and when appropriate, the entire congregation. Consider how your can address the critic’s concerns or otherwise best respond to the critic.

Dispense with it! Once you’ve determined what to do with the criticism, it’s important to let it go and not waste energy fretting over it (easier said than done, yet important).

Criticism that is ongoing or part of a larger conflict may take longer or require assistance to examine and determine a course of action.

Criticism from others hurts. If we let allow it, it can suck us into discouragement, despair or resentment.  It can also zap our enthusiasm and distract us from ministry.

God encourages us to be of good cheer because he has overcome the world… and that good cheer can persist despite criticism.


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