Let’s be honest! Criticism hurts. Even when it is deemed as “constructive criticism.” No one enjoys hearing something negative about themselves. But I have learned that criticism comes with the territory of being a leader. The truth is there is usually something to be learned from all criticism. Allowing criticism to work for you rather than against you is a key to maturing as a leader.
Here are 5 right ways to respond to criticism:
1. Listen to everyone – Even when I have considered the criticism invalid I still at least gave audience and ear to what was being said. Everyone that I serve deserves that kind of respect. I have gotten my share of anonymous criticism, and though there is the added sting and stigma of not knowing who it is, I still listen to some of it because it may be valid. Plus, I always wonder if something in my leadership prompted an anonymous response. But, the point here is to at least listen to criticism even when people are unwillingly to put their name behind it.
2. Consider the source – A leading question is how much influence and investment does this person have in the organization? This might not change your answer to the criticism but may change the amount of energy you invest in your answer. For example, so if one of our staff members had criticism for me I probably would invest more time responding than if it’s a random person complaining about our music who never intended to attend our church again.
3. Analyze for validity – Is the criticism true? Is it something you may have been blind to. This is where maturity as a leader becomes more important. You have to check your ego, because there is often an element of truth even to criticism you don’t agree with completely. Don’t dismiss the criticism until you’ve considered what’s true and what isn’t true. Mature leaders are willing to admit fault and recognize areas of needed improvement. What doesn’t apply let it fall into the sand. But don’t miss an opportunity for growth and development.
4. Look for common themes – If you keep receiving the same criticism, perhaps there is a problem even if you still think there isn’t. It may not be a vision problem or a problem with your strategy or programming, but it may be a communication problem. You can usually learn something from criticism if you are willing to look for the trends.
5. Give an answer – I believe criticism is like asking a question. It deserves an answer even if the answer is you don’t have an answer. You may even have to agree to disagree with the person offering criticism. By the way, especially during seasons of change, I save answers to common criticism received because I know I’ll likely be answering the same criticism again. Many times people simply don’t understand so they complain — they criticize. The way a leader responds is critical in that moment.
Maybe an acknowledgement of Thanks – Years ago I was receiving anonymous criticism from a member who was constantly complaining and criticizing everything I did. Exasperated and really at my wits end. I asked a pastor mentor what should I do. He suggested that I stand before the congregation and thank the person who is constantly writing you letters. Express that they are helping you become a better Pastor. Of course I didn’t want to do that. He surmised that the person who is writing the letters is trying to hurt and discourage you. They certainly don’t want help you. Once I did that the letters stopped. Oh and by the way some of the things my anonymous critic said really did help me.