Handling Criticism

by Jonathan Roberts
Posted on 1st July 2018

If we are any kind of leader someone is going to be unhappy with something we have or haven’t done, something we’ve said or a decision we’ve made. It can leave us feeling discouraged and angry. How do we handle it?

WHAT TO DO

The first thing to do is consider whether there’s any truth in what’s been said. We need to think carefully and prayerfully about this, and respond appropriately. 

If it’s true/fair. There’s an opportunity to learn a lesson, change the way we do things, review a decision and perhaps give a humble apology! Facing difficult truths can improve our work/ministry and deepen our spiritual life. ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another’ (Proverbs 27:17).

If it’s untrue/unfair: Try and understand why someone would criticise us in this way. Here are some examples, and the responses we can give.

  • We’re criticised for trying to change a structure, approach or policy. Many people find change uncomfortable and often threatening. By offering reassurance and encouragement, criticism based on these feelings can often be dealt with.
  • Someone has not understood the reasons for a decision we’ve made. Their criticism is based on inadequate information, so we need to communicate the vision, decisions and facts more clearly.
  • People have been hurt by insensitive or careless leaders in the past. They have become cynical and find it hard to trust any leader. What they need most is understanding, and help to cope with their wounds.
  • Some simply find it easier to criticise than to be constructive. They have a natural tendency to be negative! They need to be encouraged to see things in a more positive light. 

WHAT NOT TO DO

Don’t take it personally. If it’s not a personal criticism, we shouldn’t take it personally. It’s easy to regard an attack on our decisions or plans as an attack on our character or integrity, but we must learn to deal with criticism in an objective way.

Don’t give up. At the first sign of unfair criticism many of us are tempted to give up our plans or projects. We get discouraged, our enthusiasm wanes and our resolve drains away. But don’t give up!

Don’t stop loving. Try not to be bitter and resentful. Unjust criticism can turn us against the critics, but we need to continue to love them. Paul, who had more than his fair share of opposition, revealed his own attitude in 1 Corinthians 13:5: ‘[Love] is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.’ Also in Romans 12:21: ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’

TO PLEA OR NOT TO PLEA?

Sometimes we owe it to ourselves and to the critic to explain things clearly and carefully. We should write the kind of email/letter or make the kind of call that we ourselves would like to receive. 

At other times, though, it is better not to answer back. When the Pharisees and teachers of the law criticised the disciples for eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners they made no reply. Instead, ‘Jesus answered them’ (Luke 5:21). We too can leave Jesus to answer by praying that his Spirit will help the critic to think again. Perhaps we need to do this when our response would break confidences or when we want to avoid fruitless argument and just get on with our work. Indeed, the quality of our work and the commitment we show might be the means Jesus uses to answer those who criticise.

 

This article was originally published in Training Brief, the online publication of Christian Training.

Jonathan Roberts is the Editor of Salvationist magazine and Assistant Editor-in-Chief at The Salvation Army.