I don’t like to feel criticized and you probably don’t either!
Criticism catches us off-guard, feeling blind-sided, discouraged. Even well-meaning or constructive criticism, well – it just plain hurts.
Criticism presents an occupational hazard for the well-being of many clergy. The Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling several years ago reported on a focus group of randomly selected clergy members who assessed the impact of adverse interpersonal criticism. The study concluded:
“…interpersonal criticism can have deleterious vocational, psychological, and health consequence for those in the ministry… and can lead to stress, burnout, and early departure from the ministry.”[i]
So it can be a significant issue. However, one aspect of emotional intelligence is learning to manage criticism in ways that are:
- Best for you
- Best for the person providing the “feedback”
- Bes t for the growth of your congregation (or staff or organization)
What we don’t want is to react defensively or in such a way that escalates a simple incident into an all-out war. That does not help anyone!
Instead, I recommend three strategies to make the best out of the admittedly uncomfortable situation of receiving criticism.
First, the best thing for you is to mine the criticism, however well or ill intentioned, for any nuggets of truth. Fact is, I’m not perfect and neither or you. So try to listen with an open mind and admit any areas that could be potential opportunities for growth.
Second, the best thing for the person criticizing you, generally, is to feel that they have been heard. Regardless of motives, feeling heard reduces the odds of even worse conflict. Here’s how to make people feel heard: do not state your own position until you can state the other person’s perspective to their satisfaction.
Restate to them what they have told you: “So what you are telling me is…” Don’t defend yourself at all until they agree that you understand their criticism. This strategy sometimes works miracles. Try it!
Finally, discern whether the criticism reflects the isolated opinion of this one individual or possibly reflects the opinion of more than one congregant. Fact is, this person may be doing you a favor; cluing you in to what a lot of people think but won’t say!
You may want to follow up with your Board, or trusted leaders or some other advisors. Is this criticism true? Should I in fact do something about it?
You may be surprised what you learn or you may be reassured that really, it’s nothing at all to worry about. Either way, you benefit from the information.
I know criticism hurts. I realize it can test our self-control. However, let’s not find ourselves acting overly defensive but with openness and willingness to hear.
God will take care of the rest.
[i] Retrieved on 4/14/18 from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/154230501306700102