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Contending with your critics

If God wrote a want ad, perhaps it would read like this: Kingdom workers needed immediately. Urgency of task and shortage of workers makes it mandatory that we expand our labor pool. Recent resignations have left many openings. Frequent absenteeism will force us to make unwanted cutbacks in services unless we expand our work force. Ability is not as essential as availability. An excellent training manual, tried and proven for 2,000 years, is available.

We hire regardless of sex, race, or age. Diverse backgrounds welcome -- even helpful. In the past we've hired peasants and poets, kings and fig pickers, fishermen and doctors, harlots and queens, young lads and wise old men.

Main qualifications: firm faith in Christ, a soft heart, and a thick skin.

Work is not suitable for everyone. Must be able to withstand criticism of fellow workers and shirkers who often insist on their rights and ignore their responsibilities.

One of the primary qualifications of an effective leader is the ability to handle criticism. Criticism is a part of the leader's life. If you have a thin skin, it's hard to handle the sharp barbs of critics. However, if you have a thick skin, you tend to be insensitive to the needs and warnings of others.

Many leaders fear getting hurt. Unfortunately, getting hurt will happen when you're a leader, regardless if you take risks and make changes. It's part of the price you pay. Determine to accept both the pain and joy of being a leader.

Why Do People Criticize?

You can expect criticism in any of the following situations:

  • the key influencers/stakeholders have not accepted the proposed change
  • the proposed change causes inconvenience
  • there is a shift in power, significance, or recognition
  • people feel ignored or left out

Change is a sure way to attract critics. Sometimes people criticize because change is uncomfortable or because they don't see the need for it. They may lack confidence in leadership. Or they may criticize because they don't understand the proposed change. Maybe they feel the change devalues their values or that it gives them no ownership. Some criticize because they believe that other changes demand higher priority or that the timing isn't right. It could be that they are tired of continuous change.

Fear also brings out critics. Many fear the repercussions or implications of change. They fear the change will create division or that they will lose control of or significance in the group. Maybe they fear failure.

Feeling ignored and unwanted is also certain to draw criticism. If people feel you haven't consulted them about the change or that their needs and interests are being disregarded and/or jeopardized, they will criticize.

People criticize for a number of other reasons: to enlighten a situation, to gather information, to test motives or competence. They may criticize to gain attention or control, or they may criticize because they care about you and the organization.

Open for Criticism

Leaders make themselves targets for criticism if they:

  • don't understand people
  • demonstrate arrogant attitudes
  • lack imagination and creativity
  • have personal problems
  • don't assume rightful responsibilities
  • feel secure and satisfied
  • take advantage of people and situations
  • use power to control rather than influence to lead
  • are not organized
  • have an uncontrollable temper
  • will not take risks
  • are insecure and defensive
  • are inflexible
  • aren't team players
  • fight change or make unwise changes

To deal effectively with our critics, we need to learn how to handle criticism.

How To Handle Criticism
  1. Anticipate criticism. It comes with the territory of being a leader. Learn to anticipate the source of criticism and address the issue before it arises. Take a preventive posture even though criticism will still come.
  2. Don't try to defend yourself. Don't reject criticism; learn from it. Although it's tough medicine to swallow, it can bring health to your soul. List the times that critics have been helpful to you.
  3. Learn what criticism to accept. It's dangerous to overestimate or underestimate criticism. It's also possible to turn a cold into cancer, to deny the cancer, and die. A good rule of thumb: accept criticism from those who have something to gain from your success.
  4. Be honest with yourself. Ask, is this true of me? even if it hurts and is difficult. The criticism may be true even if someone expressed it inappropriately.
  5. Be attentive to God. Lord, are You saying something to me? Assume that the criticism has some validity. If you don't, you'll dismiss it and possibly miss something God is using to protect or perfect you.
  6. Identify the person's motivational gift and temperament. A person who has a prophetic motivational gift tends to be more critical than someone with the gift of mercy. Someone who is task oriented tends to criticize those who are people oriented. A slow-paced person is often critical of a fast-paced person. We tend to view ourselves in terms of our strengths and others in terms of their weaknesses.
  7. Identify what they are criticizing----beliefs, methods, you. If you understand what they're criticizing, you can deal with it and find solutions that address the real issue.
  8. Thank them for their interest in you. View your critics as friends even if they aren't. Express your appreciation for their concern about you and/or the group. This will keep you humble and demonstrate that you are willing to learn.
  9. Resist turning criticism into a personal contest. It's easy to take criticism as a personal attack and become defensive. When we feel we have to prove that we're right, we begin to fight people rather than issues. We must learn to lose some battles in order to win the war.
  10. View criticism as an opportunity to grow. Allow constructive criticism to be part of your organizational culture. Welcome criticism that is given in a positive manner. David's life was changed because of the honest criticism of Nathan.
  11. View criticism as an opportunity to witness. Your response to criticism should be a testimony of God's grace in your life. In your weakness Christ is your strength. Remember that your response to criticism is a good barometer of your spirituality.
  12. Admit when you're wrong. Offer an apology in a spirit of humility. Make a friend of your critic by saying, "You are right. I was wrong." Then correct what is wrong. This helps you to grow. Keep a list of times when you wrongly criticized people, programs, and situations. This will keep your spirit humble and right.
  13. Don't retaliate. Dealing with your critics is difficult because you often feel the pain of their criticism. It's essential to demonstrate the spirit of Christ and avoid retaliation. Don't answer your critics in your public prayers, teaching, or preaching. Trust yourself to God who says, "Vengeance is mine."

Robert Cook, president of King's College, once told this true story. In his early years of ministry, he began receiving some pointed criticism. It became such a great concern that he sought the counsel of a friend, the beloved Bible expositor and pastor, Harry A. Ironside. Pouring out his heart, Cook asked how he should handle the denunciations of his critic. Ironside gave this wise counsel: "Bob, if the criticism is true, mend your ways. If it isn't, forget about it."

Norman Vincent Peale put it this way, "The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism." We can deal with criticism if we accept it as God's of making us better people and leaders.


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