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Friday, September 16, 2011

How to Handle Criticism Constructively

Feedback comes from everywhere. We know what to do when it comes from a sound system, but we’re not always so successful when it comes from people. What can help us? Here are five considerations to remember when it comes:

1. Don’t shoot the messenger. Whether it comes unexpectedly, almost out of the blue, or you see it in the eyes of that person as they are walking down the aisle, remember: Don’t shoot the messenger. There is an unfortunate tendency in ministry to “shoot the messenger,” that is, to eliminate or discredit those that bring complaints against you as a leader or what you are doing. A sure sign of a weak leader is one that takes out the frustration on the bearer of issues being brought to surface.

It will probably be one of the hardest things you may do that week, but don’t give in to the temptation to “get even.” There is a possibility that what they are saying really reflects only their misinformed opinion, or that this person has done this with every staff member, every leader for the past ten years. In that case, there are some issues that are much bigger than you are equipped to deal with and that a trained counselor may be needed. However, most of the comments we receive are not those kind, but from an honest desire to address a need that someone sees and brings it to your attention.

Look at the negative news as a little red light on the dashboard of your car: something has happened that needs your attention. Even if the comments are not totally valid, remember the prayer of Dawson Trotman: “Lord, please show me the kernel of truth hidden in this criticism.” For both the person sharing the comment and those receiving it, it is good to also remember the following: “Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet.” Don’t be surprised that you make mistakes, until we get to heaven, it will continue to happen. [See] Later, I’ll include some positive steps to take.

2. Don’t take negative comments as personal attacks.
Sometimes it is helpful to distinguish between complaints [negative comments about a specific action] and criticism [attacks against character]. Personal attacks often come from some kind of offense, while complaints often come from unfulfilled expectations.

3. Don’t sink your lifeboat. When someone brings up a negative comment about your work or the work of someone for whom you are responsible, not to consider what is being said and pay attention means you may be ignoring the very thing that could save you from bigger problems later on.

4. Don’t keep doing the same thing. When the negative comments keep coming because no attempt to has been made to correct the situation, the situation can turn from comments to crisis or even divisions in the fellowship. A creative leader must find ways to address the problem, and remember that the Holy Spirit of God is the Spirit of Creativity.

5. Don’t be defensive and start labeling those making the comments as the enemy. Satan is our real enemy and we can easily allow our minds to begin to interpret every word said or written as an attack on what we are doing. Division is one of the Devil’s most effective tools. We need to be cautious in using words like “always” and “never” when talking with these people.

Those are five “don’ts,” but what are some things we can do?

First, remember what Proverbs 27:6 says:
“wounds from a friend are better than kisses from an enemy.” A diamond can only show its brilliance when its rough edges are chipped away. Learning to deal with issues in our lives can truly be helpful and make us most useful and effective. C. S. Lewis states, “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”

Second, learn to really listen.
Repeat back to the person bringing the comment in your own words without trying to evaluate whether or not what is being said is truly valid or not. Begin with, “Let me see if I understand what you are saying. I hear you saying that...... [repeat comment in your own words].” This will help clarify what is being said, but also indicate to the person you are really listening. Sometimes, that goes a long way in getting to a solution. Once someone feels like they have truly been heard, it is easier to be able to explain your reasons for what has been done. Jumping to the defense and trying to judge motives [You’re just saying that because you don’t like....”] can only cause more hurt and regret.

Thirdly, evaluate the comments with a godly mentor.
Only surrounding yourself with those that agree to every suggestion you give and who never provide helpful critiques or share with you blind spots or mistakes is dangerous and unhealthy. Plan to incorporate any changes that might be necessary. Ask for God’s grace to respond in a way that pleases Him and wisdom in knowing how to do it.

So much more needs to be said, but I trust that this will help get you off on the right foot.

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