Handling Criticism

One of the most challenging tasks in life is handling criticism. It really doesn’t matter if someone refers to it as “constructive feedback,” it usually just feels like criticism. I don’t know many who can people breeze through criticism without feeling at least some pain, embarrassment or shame. Obviously, this is not always the intent of the person giving feedback; however, it reveals we are far more fragile than we care to admit. Let’s face it, criticism is no fun.
At the same time, criticism and feedback are incredibly helpful. If we really want to grow and improve in life, we must find ways to get good feedback where we have blind spots, character flaws and weaknesses. I’ve had my share of criticism both malicious and well-intended. I’ve learned that the key to growth is not what or how someone says something, but rather how I choose to respond. Here are the 4 worst responses you can have to criticism…
1. Defensiveness.
This is as natural as flinching when someone threatens to punch you in the nose. When someone delivers criticism we didn’t want to hear or weren’t expecting, we can easily become defensive. This happens in marriages daily! Your spouse will give you criticism in some area and all you want to do is defend yourself. You begin to site all the good things you do and how unreasonable your spouse is to bring this “little” issue up. Defensiveness is NEVER in your favor if you want to grow. When criticism comes, the wisest thing to do is ask yourself, “Is there truth in this feedback?” Even if the intent was malicious, still ask the question! This is how you grow. The reality is, you may be wrong and you may need to hear what has been said, especially when it comes from a trusted source. 
2. Distancing.
This response is common when the criticism comes from someone we know. We feel embarrassed because we feel caught in our weakness and imperfection. Most of us are striving pretty hard to “have it all together” and criticism makes us feel the complete opposite. This drives many of us to back away from the giver of the criticism. There are cases (usually rare) when someone is truly malicious and it is wise to create some healthy distance; however, don’t confuse “healthy distance” and avoidance. Far too often, criticism leads us into avoidance of a person who truly cares for us. Before we create distance from a relationship, we should ask, “Did they do their best to approach me in an honorable way?” This helps me recognize the good motives at work in the criticism. The reality is, we cannot expect everyone to handle the task of giving criticism perfectly. 
Yes, they could have approached you better. 
Yes, they could have said it differently. 
Yes, they could have considered the environment or stress you were under. 
No one gives criticism perfectly. Show grace, even to those who give you critical feedback. 
3. Discouragement.
Criticism, as healthy as it might be, stings and can send us into a tailspin of discouragement. We can unnecessarily question our overall value because of one character flaw or mistake. In these moments, I try to ask myself the question, “What is true about me?” This is where I review what God says about me. This is always a source of relief and peace for me because it reminds me that no matter what I've said or done, I'm fully accepted and loved by God because of His grace, not because of my performance. Discouragement keeps us from gaining the blessing of criticism. Discouragement translates criticism as a injury instead of a blessing. Before discouragement sets in, pause and be grateful. That’s right, grateful. Remember, criticism is necessary for growth. Criticism, especially the kind given in love, is rare and you should be grateful for it. Gratitude will shut down the discouragement that often accompanies criticism.
4. Deflecting.
You’ve been there haven’t you? When criticism is given, the tables are immeditely turned on the person giving feedback. You feel hurt or defensive and resort to deflecting. You take the criticism, meant for you, and deflect it as criticism toward the giver. This might happen out loud or silently in your heart and mind. When this happens to me, I ask, “Am I tempted to deflect?” If so, I try to make the conscious decision to be a recipient only. It is easy to turn the tables and retaliate on the giver; however, when you do this you forfeit the opportunity to grow. Choosing to be a recipient only is a decision to humble yourself and become teachable. Trust  me a thousand reasons will flood your mind tempting you to deflect. That’s when you recognize this is YOUR moment to grow - not theirs. By the way, it may never be your job to return the criticism to them. Criticism is not a competition. Criticism is ALWAYS an opportunity to grow - don’t deflect it!
Handling criticism well is unnatural for sinful people like you and me. I don’t handle it perfectly and neither will you, but we can get better. I hope this post will help you handle some of life’s hardest days a little better. 
Posted by Andy Savage at 9:18 PM
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