How to Handle Criticism Constructively

By Doug Armey

“Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves.”  Bertrand Russell

Have you ever ventured out into something unconventional and been criticized?  Ever tried to change your world and been personally attacked?  Attempted something new you felt would make a positive difference only to have it undermined by a friend?

Go down the list through history—scientists, religious leaders, political leaders, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, inventors.  Everyone who has challenged the status quo and attempted to change it for the better has faced criticism.

Yet, somehow they pressed on.  They turned their attention away from the naysayers and kept to their dream.  And they discovered the secrets, founded the movements, invented the products, pioneered the businesses, wrote the books, and painted the pictures that changed the world forever.

So the question is not if you will be criticized if you attempt to stand out.  Only when and how you will deal with it?

So how do you handle criticism constructively?

A few helpful ideas that I’ve learned the hard way.

Proverbs says, “Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor; only fools insist on quarreling.” (Proverbs 20:3, NLT)

Often, the best response is no response.

Petty criticism is just that—petty.  It’s not worth responding to.  We don’t need to justify ourselves to everyone who disagrees with us.  There are a lot of people who resist growth or are just unhappy.  And they’re threatened by us doing anything extraordinary.

So detach from your critic.

I know we’re supposed to reconcile with our enemies.  Detach anyway. It helps you accomplish several things.

  • Let’s you calm down and clear your mind.
  • Helps you think through if you want to respond.  Not every challenge needs a response.
  • If you need to it helps you carefully think through what to say in constructive ways.
  • It helps you understand the other person.  Sometimes they’re just stressed.  Give them space.

I’ve found detaching for a while to be the most helpful action I can take.  By nature I have a pretty quick temper.  Thankfully through the years I’ve mellowed some.  But it can still get the best of me on occasion.   So when I feel attacked verbally, if I can, I simply disconnect.  I check out of the relationship for a day or a week to let me calm down and rationally process what has occurred.  Then if I need to, I’ll come back and in a quiet rational way enter back into the discussion.  But if it won’t reconcile the relationship anyway I just let it go.

This has paid huge dividends in relationships and my personal peace.  Does it always mean the other person sees it my way?  Absolutely not.  But sometimes we can agree to peacefully disagree.  Or sometimes we don’t agree at all.  Not everyone will be my close friend.  That’s ok.

Second, in that separation time, I think about the criticism.  I ask,” Is there something I can learn from it?”

Leo Babauta said in a recent post, “The trick to navigating the icebergs of criticism is to figure out which are helpful, and steer clear of those that aren’t.”

Proverbs says, “So don’t waste your time on a scoffer; all you’ll get for your pains is abuse. But if you correct those who care about life, that’s different—they’ll love you for it! ” (Proverbs 9:8, The Message)

Those who want to grow and accomplish the most understand they don’t have all the answers.  Even criticism from those who mean it hurtfully can be used for good.

When  calm I ask:

  • Who’s criticizing me?  Are they trying to help me or simply unload their frustrations?
  • Are they qualified to offer me helpful suggestions?
  • Is there one productive idea I can glean out of all of this?

When I pastored a church I caught my share of criticism.  Many times sent to me anonymously.  I learned if you put your opinion out publicly you will get shot.  But I also learned to process the criticism.  I asked often, “What can I learn?  How could I communicate more clearly and convincingly?  How could I approach the changes I’m proposing more positively?”

I grew as a person.  I learned to handle criticism more constructively.  And my planning and communication skills improved.  That paid huge returns then and has continued to.

Finally, what helps me stay calmer in the midst of criticism is realizing I don’t need to please everyone.

I won’t anyway and that’s ok.  My life doesn’t revolve around the accolades of the crowd nor the approval of every acquaintance.

I realize God made me in his image.  He made me who I am with the gifts and the rough edges.  He wants me to grow but he also loves me the way I am.  So I view the criticism as a gift to help me, not as a judgment on my worth.  And that has helped me, when stung by criticism, to deal with it productively.

Jesus said, “They are blessed who are humble, for the whole earth will be theirs.” (Matthew 5:5, NCV)

Not false humility.  Not looking down on yourself as being unworthy.  It’s viewing yourself through God’s eyes.  You are his perfect creation.   You don’t need to falsely build yourself up to impress others.  And you don’t need to tear yourself down when someone criticizes you.

There’s a personal power that flows out of that.  It gives us strength to go out and live extraordinary lives, even when facing inevitable criticism.

Been stung by criticism lately?  Let me know what helps you.

If this post has helped you please let me know and share it.  And if you haven’t already please subscribe.  I appreciate it.

Categories : Relationships, Success

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