Five Ways We Choose To Control Criticism

Let’s start this post off with a little dose of reality: every person gets criticized.

Just let that simmer for a moment. Every…person…gets…criticized. Once you understand that, once you realize that you are included in this group known as “every person,” it may help you to deal with criticism properly when it comes your way.

I realize the title of this post is deceiving. You cannot choose who criticizes you or what people criticize you about. You don’t have any control over when and where criticism occurs. If that’s where you spend all of your energy, then you’re going to run out of energy quickly. The only thing you have control over is your response to criticism. You get to make some choices. You get to decide how you will handle criticism rather than allowing the criticism to handle you.

Your world is full of people who have a different opinion, a different approach, and a different perspective than your own. That’s a good thing…right up until the moment when they feel empowered to share how their opinion is wiser than yours, their approach is better than yours, or their perspective is more valuable than yours. Or at the very least, they may just point out where you’re wrong without ever offering why they might be right.

So the next time you receive some criticism, be aware that you get to make some choices:

1. Choose to acknowledge the criticism.
When someone gives you criticism, receive it. Tell them, “thank you for that criticism,” (maybe not in those exact words). You may not agree with it or like it, but you show respect and a posture of humility when you acknowledge it. When your first response is to argue instead of acknowledge, you are allowing criticism to control you

2. Choose to respond rather than react to the criticism.
You don’t have to react to what has been said. You don’t have to do anything. You have the ability to choose how you will respond. If you need some time, simply say, “let me think about that.” You don’t have to get angry or get offended or get bitter…if you don’t want to. You decide what the best response will be.

3. Choose to learn from the criticism.
Even the most outlandish criticism can teach you something about the situation or the other person or yourself. At the very least, you are now more aware of a different opinion, approach, or perspective. But there might also be something valuable that you’ve missed. I’ve had student leaders claim to be teachable. I won’t know if that is really true or not until they’ve faced the criticisms in their life with a willingness to learn and grow.

4. Choose to let the criticism go.
This is really hard for some of us (me!). We may acknowledge the criticism, respond well to it in the moment, and even reflect on it to see what we can learn. Beyond that, we allow the criticism to eat away at us. We mull over it and we become paralyzed by it. It’s at this point, we must learn to let it go, to move forward, to release both the criticism and the one who offered it to us. I don’t know why encouraging words have such a short life span yet criticisms can linger on and on in our minds. Perhaps it’s time to forgive someone for saying something that has hurt you or offended you. Or perhaps it’s time to forgive yourself.

5. Choose to take it personally or not.
Some will begin their criticism with the words, “don’t take this personally.” Hogwash. Even when you try to separate the action from the person, there’s always something personal about it. Conventional wisdom may tell you not to take it personally or develop a thicker skin. I think you have to make that call on a case by case basis. There’s some criticisms that you might want to take very personally and others that you let go quickly and move on. Taking criticism personally depends on a lot of different factors (who said it?, do I trust them?, what’s the motive?, etc).

When we can view our response to criticism as a choice, a choice we get to make, it can free us up from some of the angst and anxiety that goes along with receiving it.

What do you think? What kinds of choices have you made when it comes to responding to the criticism of others?

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Brian Fitch

    Tim,

    That is very good advice. Believe me, pastors get their fair share of criticism and if we don’t handle it well it can really blow up. I’m going to keep those five points, they are right on!

    • tim milburn

      I hear you Brian! Part of this post flows out of all of those years as a youth pastor. I’ve had to make each of these choices at various times.

  • http://www.myendofthedeal.com Brian Seidel

    So, don’t take this personally, but… Just kidding, these are great points. One thing I have realized of late, at least for me it is harder to take criticism from people I don’t know or that don’t know me. If they know me, my motives, and my heart I can usually see where they are coming from. It is really hard for me to do the same with someone who doesn’t know those things, which makes these steps all that more important. Thanks Tim!

    • tim milburn

      LOL…great opening to your comment. You got me. I am so glad you brought this up. I thought about it but didn’t include it in the post. It’s a great point. What do you do when that happens? Are you more prone to let it go or hold onto it?

      • http://www.myendofthedeal.com Brian Seidel

        It bothers me more from someone who doesn’t know me. My temptation is to either go off on them about the fact they don’t know me and therefore don’t have the right to say what they said, or I just blow it off completely because I believe they don’t know and therefore don’t have the right to say what they said. I realize neither choice is very healthy, but that is my temptation.