O Criticism, Where is Thy Sting?


Bud and I laughed together, swapping stories about bee stings in our childhood and the “remedies” that were popular at the time.

In my case, I still remember stepping on a bee barefooted as a kid. Ouch!  A few tears and a baking soda patch later, I was back outside…. still barefooted of course.

Bud related a story of getting into a nest of yellow jackets. Apparently the “cure” in his part of the country at that time was to spit on some cigarette tobacco and press that concoction on the stung area.

You know, I’m not sure if either one of those remedies actually had any effect at all!

One thing I do know: bee stings really do hurt. So does criticism. In fact, some cite criticism as a major reason for clergy burnout or dropout.

You care about the people in your congregation, no doubt. Yet that actually can leave you more vulnerable to the hurt of unfair criticism. (And let’s face it; most criticism feels unfair!)  When you put heart and soul into ministering to others and then they harshly criticize you; well that can really sting!

Yet there exist tactics you can use to help pull some of the sting out criticism! Allow me to share a few things emotionally intelligent leaders do when criticized. They DO -

1. Work toward receiving it objectively (and yes, even thankfully) rather taking it “personally”.

2. Pause before responding in order to avoid a defensive response.

3.  Ask questions to gain a better understanding of the critic’s actual meaning and motivation.

4. De-escalate tension by responding in a calm tone of voice.

5. Evaluate the criticism or feedback rather than rejecting or accepting it wholesale.

6. Correct misunderstandings and apologize for mistakes.

7.  Move on.

How do you do in those seven areas? Got them down pat? Still working on some of them?

Do you want to build your immunity to the pain of criticism without becoming hard and cynical? (Not saying, of course, that it won’t hurt at all. Criticism always hurts a little!) You can do that over time. Build these emotionally intelligent habits and you will bounce back from the sting much more quickly.

1.  Analyze your own reactions to criticism; why do you respond like you do?  

2.  Address and heal personal insecurities that leave you more vulnerable.  

3.  Listen and ask questions to better understand the critic and the criticism.

4. Restrain your immediate “fight of flight” reaction and formulate a response that is best for the critic, yourself and others affected.

I believe that building emotional intelligence – in this case, as it applies to receiving criticism – takes time but can be done. Each time you receive some stinging feedback, take advantage of it! Use it to grow your self-awareness, your self-control, and your empathy for others.

Eventually, you will master the art of taking (most of) the sting out of criticism!  


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