Most of the time this phrase is used in a light-hearted way, as a simple jest in reply to a friend’s comment. But criticism is not always a laughing matter. In reality, the more you attempt to accomplish, particularly if you experience some success which leads to exposure, the more criticism you will experience. Some of it will be founded, some of it will be short-sighted and foolish, and some of it will be down-right nasty. But it will all affect you in some way, the key is realizing this and learning how to regulate it.
When I was in high school I had a football coach for a couple of years who was a master motivator. In a sport played on a level that required as much mental fortitude as physical skill, he knew how to get us focused and fired up. We were a team from a small town who constantly squared off against bigger schools with more resources from bigger cities. One of his favorite tools for motivating us was the “nobody’s giving us a chance!” line of reasoning. He routinely utilized this famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Our culture is one that is becoming increasingly saturated with cold and timid souls. Perhaps they have always been among us, but aided by advancements in technology, they now have a megaphone. The arm-chair quarterbacks and sideline dwellers seem to be growing louder and louder.
The ability to handle criticism in a productive way is vital for anyone seeking to accomplish great things. There is an emotional and intellectual fortitude that must be fostered if you believe it is your destiny to make a mark on the world.
So how do we handle criticism?
Here are five steps I take which have helped me:
1) Start with the source.
- Many people I respect have encouraged me to absolutely flush any anonymous criticism. I have been practicing this for years, and I have found it to be extremely helpful. How do you flush it? Literally, find a toilet, put the criticism in it, and hit the handle. This means that if you get criticism in the form of a note, letter, or the phrase “some people have said,” then you immediately look for the source–and if it’s not revealed, signed, etc. then you don’t even read or listen to the criticism. Whenever I break this rule I regret it. A cold and timid soul often fails to identify itself, and the cloak of anonymity allows them to postulate non-realities from an insulated perch. You can’t let any of that garbage into your head–it’ll eat at you like a parasite–even though you know it’s nonsense.
- If the source is identified, consider the source. What are their motives? Do they feel spurned for some reason? Are they a trustworthy person? Are they healthy? Do they have a track-record for dealing with a full deck?
- If you trust the source, and the source is trustworthy, see step 2.
2) Consider the content of the criticism.
- Did an isolated incident produce these thoughts?
- Does this criticism stem from a miscommunication?
- Did you drop the ball in some way?
- Are there character issues within yourself that have made you blind to the behavior patterns or habits that produce these kinds of feelings in others?
3) If the criticism is derived from an isolated incident, miscommunication, or dropped ball, then own it, explain it, and do better next time.
- As you do this, be very conscious of the tendency to self-justify. “I’m sorry that you feel that way about that incident” is not an actual apology. That phrase is code for “you don’t get it and that’s why you feel that way.”
- When someone says, “You could have done that better,” respond with “You’re right, will you pray for me that next time I will have the clarity and wisdom to do better?” This will immediately build credibility and respect for your critics and from your critics.
4) If as you pray about it and seek counsel, you realize that the criticism is probably the result of a character flaw or immaturity source within yourself, seek further counsel and accountability and work to change.
- The critic is not necessarily (and perhaps not ever) the one from whom you want to receive accountability in regard to that specific area. Most times they are very sensitive to whatever that situation was or is, and they will be overzealous in trying to regulate it within you. Not always the best option.
- Find sources you really trust, share openly with them, and ask them to keep you accountable.
- Follow up with the critic later–maybe in a few weeks or months, and have a brief dialogue about the area in question.
- Be careful on this step, so that you’re not working to foster a culture of nagging criticism. Some people who are very critical can’t breathe if they don’t have a platform to whine about something. Keep this in mind.
- This fourth step is vital, because it could mean the difference between being a fool or a wise man.
- Proverbs 9:8-9 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
- Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.
5) Work hard to keep Christ the source of your identity.
- A nasty thought-pattern to work to avoid is the tendency to either get crushed by criticism or to completely dismiss it all (even the criticism that is founded).
- If you’re finding your identity in what other people think of you, you will always land on one of those two sides on this issue. You will either avoid criticism because you believe you’re never wrong, or you will be crushed by it, because you can’t stand the thought that someone doesn’t like you.
- Realize: criticism doesn’t mean someone doesn’t like you, in fact, the best criticism usually comes from those who love you most.