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Thursday, February 12, 2009

handling criticism

No one likes to be criticized. It's human. It's natural. And, it can hurt. How many Christians are suffering form wounds inflicted by negative criticism?

Criticism can destroy a friendship. It can ruin a church. It can destroy the attitudes of children as it is given by uncaring parents.

I like what comedian Steve Martin said:

"Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you'll be a mile away and have his shoes."

But criticism can also be healthy, if it is given in the ways that I wrote about yesterday. It can be the surgeon's knife that cuts way at a cancer in our lives and makes way for wholeness and health again whether it be in the spiritual or emotional realms.

So, let's begin by realizing: you and I will be criticized. It's a fact of life. Especially if you are trying to go forward, either in your relationship with God, or at your work, or doing something in God's kingdom.

I still, even after all of these years, struggle with this. But let me give you some tips that I try to implement in my own life.

How do we handle it?

1. Pray - Ask God how you should respond. Talk with God.

2. Beware of becoming defensive. This is very, very, very, hard. The natural reaction is to fight back with defensive tactics, explanations and excuses.

3. Let the critic finish. Don't interrupt them. Try to get the whole story. Ask questions like, "is that all?" "Is there anything else"?

4. Ask for the facts. Become a CSI detective at this point. If the facts are true, there might be a weakness in our lives that needs to be corrected, something that we didn't even know about. I've walked away from some conversations like that thinking, "why didn't somebody tell me?"

On the other hand, if the facts are not correct, than you and I have an opportunity to clarify and call their attention to the inadequacy of the criticism.

5. Ask questions of yourself. What is the Lord trying to teach me through this?

6. Let the criticism be a source of learning.

7. Determine whether the critic has needs revealed by the criticism. Hurting people hurt people. Hurting people hurt easily. Sometimes a criticism is a cry for help.

In his book Confessions of a Pastor, Craig Groeschel offers some advice on how to handle critics:

It's a fact that "hurt people hurt people." They usually dislike themselves and criticize others in a misguided effort to validate themselves. If one of these injured souls lobs a criticism grenade in your direction, defuse it with understanding.

"Part of considering the source is seeking awareness of what that person may be going through…

One time I was praying during worship, a few moments before preaching. Eyes closed, focusing on God, I felt someone slip a note into my hand. I never saw who it was, but the note was marked "Personal." I thought to myself, Someone probably wrote a nice note to encourage me before I preach. A warm, loving feeling settled over me as I unfolded the paper.

A moment later, I lost that loving feeling.

Evidently, the note was from a woman who had tried to see me on Friday, my day off. She took offense at my absence and blasted me with hateful accusations. This happened literally seconds before I was to stand up to preach. In that moment, I had a choice. I could internalize the offense and become demoralized and discouraged.

Or I could ask myself, I wonder what she's experiencing that caused her to lash out?
I chose compassion over depression. My heart hurt for her. I knew that such a disproportionate reaction must indicate deep pain, so I didn't take her note personally.

Consider the source. And consider the possibility that the jab may have come from an injured heart. Dismiss it and move on. If you don't, you may become the very thing you despise."

8. Determine why the critic has criticized.

9. Determine what the real problem is.

10. Determine carefully how to respond. Face-to-face confrontation? Telephone? Email? The best way to is meet with the face-to-face. And...share respectfully and with honor.

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