5 Right Ways to Respond to Criticism

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Criticism, if handled correctly, doesn’t have to be a bad part of leadership.

Let’s be honest! Criticism can hurt. No one enjoys hearing something negative about themselves or finding out that something you do isn’t perceived as wonderful by others as you hoped it would be. Criticism, however, is a part of leadership and, if handled correctly, doesn’t have to be a bad part of leadership. There is usually something to be learned from all criticism. Allowing criticism to work for you rather than against you is a key to maturing as a leader.

Recently, I posted 5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism. A companion post is in order.

Here are 5 right ways to respond to criticism:

Consider the source – In a stakeholder sense, how much influence and investment does this person have in the organization? This might not change your answer but may change the amount of energy you invest in your answer. Our church meets in two schools, for example, so if the Director of Schools has criticism for me, I will invest more time responding than if it’s a random person who never intends to attend our church.

Listen to everyone – You may not respond to everyone the same way, but everyone deserves a voice, and everyone should be treated with respect. This doesn’t necessarily include anonymous criticism. I listen to some if it, especially if it appears valid, because I’ve learned from that too and always wonder if my leadership prompted an anonymous response, but I don’t “criticize” leaders who don’t. I don’t, however, weight it as heavily as I would criticism assigned to a person. (Feel free to leave a comment about anonymous criticism and how you respond.)

Analyze for validity – Is the criticism true? This is where maturity as a leader becomes more important because there is often an element of truth even to criticism you don’t agree with at the time. Don’t dismiss the criticism until you’ve considered what’s true and what isn’t true. Mature leaders are willing to admit fault and recognize areas of needed improvement.

Look for common themes – If you keep receiving the same criticism, perhaps there is a problem even if you still think there isn’t. It may not be a vision problem or a problem with your strategy or programming, but it may be a communication problem. You can usually learn something from criticism if you are willing to look for the trends.

Give an answer – I believe criticism is like asking a question. It deserves an answer even if the answer is that you don’t have an answer. You may even have to agree to disagree with the person offering criticism. By the way, I save answers to common criticism received because I know I’ll be answering that same criticism again.

Do you remember the classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life? George Bailey responds to criticism that the Bailey Building and Loan is going to collapse. I love how he takes the criticism seriously, considers the importance of the critics, responds as necessary, attempts to calm their fears, and refocuses on the vision. What a great leadership example during times of stress! Obviously, this is an extreme example, but it points to a reality that happens everyday in an organization. Many times, people simply don’t understand so they complain…they criticize. The way a leader responds is critical in that moment.

What would you add to my list? Where do you disagree with me here? I’ll try to take the criticism the “right” way!

Ron Edmondson Ron Edmondson is a pastor and church leader passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive, and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life. Ron has over 20 years business experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner, and he's been helping church grow vocationally for over 10 years.

More from Ron Edmondson or visit Ron at http://www.ronedmondson.com/

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  • Lisa Donald

    Criticism (whether valid or invalid) may be lumped together with other “hardships” which God uses in our lives for our good, to shape us into Christ’s image (Hebrews 12).  Thus, our first response must be to look to the Lord to somehow use this to accomplish His purposes.  I think the points outlined in Ron’s article are great, but secondary. We must keep the main thing the main thing.  

    Situations such as dealing with criticism are also key moments of opportunity for kingdom work, because it’s how we can, by the grace of God, back up our words to show Christ-like, dying to self kind of behaviour in a way that people will understand.  We can talk till we’re blue in the face, but until people see how we actually treat each other and conduct our relationships, they’re not nearly as likely to “get it” with the gospel (see John 17, esp. verses 20-23).  I have observed that Christ’s humility lived out in our responses to each other is a key way that God is pleased to grow unity/oneness within the Body of Christ.

  • http://www.ronedmondson.com ronedmondson

    These are great thoughts Lisa. I agree, criticism, like hardship, can be used to shape us. It’s all in how we respond. Thank you.