Handling Criticism

Handling criticism determines the quality of your life leadership as well as your life.

Somebody once said, “Nothing is certain in this world but death and taxes.” My mentor, Dr. Ron Cottle used to add, "And nothing is more certain than criticism!"

Criticism is a “given” in every leader’s life.

This truth is revealed in graphic detail in the narrative about Moses as he leads the Hebrew people recorded in Numbers 20:1-12. I suggest you read this Scripture passage before reading this article.


What is Criticism?

According to the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary criticism is “to find fault, to stress the faults, failure, demerits of someone, something”.

In life there are only two kinds of criticism:

1.  Justified - criticism merited by the facts and motivated by love.
2.  Unjustified - criticism unmerited by the facts or not motivated by love.

In handling criticism you will encounter four types of critic:

1.  The chronic critic who is negative, insecure, disloyal, and vengeful. Such a person is sick and needs healing.

2.  The cruel critic who is hurtful and evil. Such a critic is a vessel of "accusation" and thus of Satan. This person needs deliverance.

3.  The controlling critic who is the Worst type of critic. This person criticizes to gain power over you and manipulates you by preying on your insecurities to get you to perform. This is really a form of witchcraft.

4.  The constructive critic who wants to help you and cares about you. This person knows the facts and understands that true loving-kindness is not afraid of “tough love”.


Handling Criticism: 5 Wrong Responses

The following are wrong ways of dealing with criticism because they unhealthy for you or sinful. They make matters worse!

1. Ignore the Critic - Sometimes this is if the criticism is obviously unjustified. However, the downside is that it does not address the problem (whether valid or invalid).

2. Please the Critic - this is an all too common response by leaders. It is motivated by "fear of man", which Proverbs 29:25 tells is "bringeth a snare (trap)".

There are two problems with this approach to handling criticism. First, as a leader you can't please everybody any time or every time.. Second, trying to please your critic is never ending and so useless.

3. Imitate the Critic - find and stress your critic's faults. This is "sin for sin" or revenge. The is a childish way of handling criticism and makes the situation worse and confuses the issues.

4. Avoid the Critic - this is avoiding the risk of criticism by running away from your critic. This never solves anything. In fact this response is both foolish and hypocritical. One tends to curb actions to avoid risk and thereby contradicts one's convictions.

5. Kill the Critic - not literally - but you attempt to silence your critic by slander or angry intimidation and threat. This is a sinful way of handling criticism in which you have sunk to the level of your critic.

How shall I respond to my critics?


3 Principals of Handling Criticism Positively

Higher criticism is the process of deconstructing the biblical texts to determine its underlying forms and literary sources as well as the effects of subsequent redaction. When these higher critical tools are used by sincere and sensible scholars, our understanding of both the text of the Bible itself and its meaning are enhanced. When used irresponsibility or by literary critics with an agenda helpful deconstruction becomes harmful destruction.

When handling criticism good leaders learn the art turning harmful destruction into helpful deconstruction.

1. Our response to criticism reveals our true source of security!

When the people of Israel criticized the leadership of Moses and Aaron as recorded in Number 20:1-12, the problem revealed by Moses's response is that he derived his security from his relationship with the people. So he reacts in anger, name calling..."you rebels", and then he smote the rock...twice!

In contrast, Jesus' strength is that he derived his security from his good relationship with the Father. At the time of Judas’s betrayal when soldiers came to arrest him, Jesus' reaction is to calmly kneel, pray, and wait.

Here is handling criticism the Jesus way...
“Put up your sword..."
“My kingdom (security) is not of this world..."
“Father, forgive them..."

Conclusion: our response to criticism reveals our true source of security.

2. Our response to criticism forms our spiritual identity.

Galatians 6:7 - "Do not be deceived... A man reaps what he sows." This is a universal spiritual principal.

An old Indian saying stated: "kill your enemy, inherit his spirit." In handling criticism, "kill your critic, inherit his spirit." If you sink to your critic's level and strike back you allow him to determine the quality of your character.

I like what Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) once said: "I will not allow any man to demean and diminish my character by making me hate him.”


3. Our response to criticism dictates our future.

In Numbers 20, because of his mishandling of criticism, Moses is forbidden to enter Canaan... he lost his inheritance. Some commentators have suggested that Canaan represents your spiritual destiny; that is, your emotional, intellectual, and relational wholeness. Your critic can’t kill your destiny, but you can in how you deal with criticism.

Are you as a leader handling criticism correctly?


3 Steps to Handling Criticism Constructively

Step 1 (now this is difficult) - Expect it and realize that you need it to be your best.

Proverbs 9:8 “Rebuke (criticize) a wise man, and he will love you."

We need criticism because of 4 things:

1. Criticism does not define who I am, but it refines who I am.
2. Criticism helps me to correct wrongs I might otherwise never see or deal with.
3. Criticism reveals my spiritual maturity (to me).
4. Criticism develops character in me.

Step 2 (this is more difficult but “a must”) - Separate the criticism form the critic.

Respond never react to the criticism don’t lash out at the critic.

Calmly and thoughtfully respond to the content of the criticism, not the intent of the critic. Be careful not to ignore or resent correct criticism!!

Moses reacted -Jesus responded!

Step 3 - Forgive those who have wrongfully criticized you.

Either what they said was wrong or how they said it was wrong...
...They criticized something you can’t change, or
...They have an invalid case, or
...They have taken advantage of an admitted weakness or vulnerability.

It is especially painful when...
...Those you depended on for encouragement, support, and self-esteem turned on you.
...Those who picked up the offense of another and do not really understand issues are critical of your leadership.
...Those who criticized you after you did your best.


So forgive them - not for their sake - but for yours!

These kinds of critics aren’t worth your unforgiveness.

Then get on with your life!

Remember Booker T. Washington: “I will not allow any man to demean my soul or diminish my character by making me hate him.”



Recommended Reading: The Conflict Resolution Handbook: Theory and Practice

Learning the art of handling criticism and confrontation how to resolve conflict are essential skills for leaders in every kind of organizational setting. This outstanding resource will help you deepen your understanding of the processes involved in conflicts and your knowledge of how to manage them constructively.

This has been an invaluable resource to me in both my professional and personal life. Yes, it has a relatively price tag, but IT IS WORTH EVERY PENNY!




Return from Handling Criticism to Biblical Leadership home page.



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