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Seven Lessons We Can Learn From Our Critics
by Tom Goodman
February 2, 2012

Every leader has to learn how to process criticism.  Even when it comes from well-meaning sources, our knee-jerk reaction is to go on the defensive.  When it comes from less friendly quarters, we can waste a day's worth of energy (or more) in resentment or depression.

There's a better way.  In a recent post, Thom Rainer shared seven lessons he's learned from his critics over the years.  We should reflect on these observations and let them improve how we react to criticism:

  1. Not all personal criticisms are personal.  I know.  My statement sounds contradictory.  But many personal attacks take place because the critic is having his or her own problems.  I once spoke with a vociferous critic on the phone who said some pretty terrible things to me and about me.  Though I was restrained, I hung up the phone pretty mad.  For some reason, I called him back just a few minutes later.  I told him that I should have prayed for him, and that I wanted to apologize for being insensitive.  He began to weep, telling me that his adult daughter was killed in an auto accident just two weeks earlier.  Everyone has needs and problems -- even our critics.  Maybe sometimes we really need to listen to them.
  2. A quick, emotional response usually backfires.  I do better to say less than more.  When I speak quickly to the critic, it usually is an emotional response that I regret later.  I'm learning to keep quiet.  It's tough.
  3. Criticism helps me to become a better person and a better leader.  Sometimes the remarks make me look in the mirror, and I don't always like what I see.  I have also learned that I'm not helped at all if everyone agrees with me on all that I say and do.  Critics help refine me as a leader.  They help me to be a better person, though the process is always painful.
  4. Criticism helps me to think twice before I criticize others.  I know the pain of criticism.  I know the hurt that comes when a critic comes after me with an unfounded accusation.  If I don't like that pain, why should I inflict it on others?  I recently spoke with a pastor who was lamenting the level of criticism he receives.  But this pastor has a blog that is inevitably critical of someone almost every time he writes.  He does not see the inconsistency in his behavior and the way he would like to be treated.
  5. "Consider the source" is a good guideline.  I have learned that some people are just negative.  They seem stuck in that one disposition.  They skip the reading of Philippians 4 because the text mandates we "rejoice in the Lord."  Some critics should be heard.  Many should not.
  6. Criticism can lead us to greater depths of prayer.  I wish I were the man of prayer that I should be.  But I fall short, very short of where I need to be.  Criticism hurts me.  Sometimes the pain is more than I can handle, so I turn it over to my Lord to handle it for me.  I wish I did that all the time.  Sometimes the criticism is extremely painful and just what I needed.  It drives me to pray even more fervently.
  7. Sometimes the critic is right.  Yes, it's painful to be criticized.  But on more occasions than I'm comfortable admitting, I've had the additional pain of learning that I indeed needed correction.  The Bible can be pretty straightforward about it: "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but one who hates correction is stupid" (Proverbs 12:1).  Call me stupid.  Criticism hurts.  But it can be for our benefit.  The critic can be right.

God, grant us leaders patience and discernment as we process the criticisms that come our way!


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