How to Deal with Criticism

Here’s a newsflash…you cannot please everyone! Everyone gets criticized especially if you are a leader. Aristotle famously said, “There’s only one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” But our task is too great to waste our time doing, saying, and being nothing which leaves us with the job of dealing with criticism.

When we face criticism, it’s easy to take it personally and react with feelings of anger or defeat, but I’m learning to value my critics. The first step, and a hugely freeing one at that, is recognizing that I am human and I blow it! The second step is remembering that there’s usually more than one way to accomplish whatever we’ve set out to do. It’s absolutely possible that both my critique-r and I are correct! With those foundational truth in mind, I am learning that critics can bring depth and insight to things I simply miss. It’s possible that you’ll never hear the hard truth except from a critic. Early in my ministry I had one critic tell me that I had a habit of blaming others when something went wrong. I respectfully pointed out why it wasn’t my fault. Just kidding! He was right! This is still something I work on.

So given that we will be criticized, how can we respond in a healthy way? Here are five things to remember when criticism comes our way.


When criticized, start here:

Listen. Hear them out! Don’t interrupt; really listen to what they are saying. That means to be fully present. Don’t stop listening until they are done talking. Even ask if there is something else that needs to be shared.

Empathize. Assume they have a point and, more than that, have a valid reason for feeling they way they do. Understand them and seek to know why they think the way they thinking.

Apologize. Admit when you are wrong! Even if you aren’t responsible for the problem, you can apologize for their negative experience. Hearing “I’m sorry…” may help dissuade bad feelings. (Danny Meyer, an author and restauranteur, had a great session at the Leadership Summit on handling mistakes. Here’s a summary of his 5 A’s for dealing with mess ups.

Respond. It’s important to do something about it. Whenever possible, let them know the steps you are planning to take to help address the issue.

Notify. Contact those who can potentially fix the concern. Even follow up with the situation at a later time and let them know what is being done about it.

While each of these steps is simple in nature, in combination they are powerful! They’ll allow us to learn from criticism.


So, what have you done to respond to criticism in your ministry? What has helped you respond appropriately?

One Comment Add yours

  1. Bill Vermillion says:

    Amen. Not easy to do but most importantly it reflects the Spirit of Christ in responding to criticism as you suggested.


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