Criticism is one of those misunderstood topics that make most people pretty uncomfortable.
Personally, I am sensitive to criticism. Growing up I felt heavily criticized for thinking differently. This has affected how I receive criticism as an adult.
Throughout the years I have had some opportunities to grow in receiving criticism. Although these opportunities were not necessarily easy to go through, they’ve matured me greatly in the art of accepting healthy criticism.
Difference between Healthy and Unhealthy Criticism
Criticism is defined as the practice of judging the merits and faults of something or someone. To criticize does not necessarily imply “to find fault”, but the word is often taken to mean the simple expression of an objection against or a disapproval of something or someone.
Unhealthy criticism is usually done in a way that shields the critic. It serves the purpose to hurt, or dismantle a person’s work, idea, or behavior. It is not constructive nor supportive. Oftentimes this kind of criticism is done in a secretive or anonymous way. Usually the critic uses this behavior to raise themselves above the person they are critiquing as an authority.
Healthy criticism involves a dialogue between two people in a direct way that is designed to help improve, support or encourage the person and their work, idea, or behavior. It is equally identifying both merits and faults. It is done in a way that does not cause the critic to be lifted over the person they are critiquing.
The practice of accepting healthy criticism can be very beneficial to one’s quality of life and is a learned art. Below are a few ways to accept healthy criticism with grace and gratitude for your benefit and success.
Maintain Control of Emotions in your Response
It is easy to become offended by criticism and strike back in defense and anger. Stop, take a deep breath and think about what is being said.
There are certain subjects that ignite anger when I am criticized over them. Over the years I have learned to control this reaction. If I receive a Facebook message or email that offends me I leave it alone for awhile until I can calmly digest what is being said. I walk away from someone before I react in a way or say something I may later regret.
In removing myself from the situation I allow the emotional response to dissipate so I can calmly and more intelligently decide if and how I will respond. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) and when engaged is a superior way to react to criticism.
Maintain an Attitude of Gratitude and Thank your Critic
Sometimes the loudest critics are the most negative people. Sometimes your critic is just having a bad day. A purely negative critique is not a reflection of you, your work, idea or behavior, but rather that of your critic. An attitude of gratitude is an effective way to throw your negative critic off-guard. You may even win them over using gratitude as an effective tool.
There have been several people who used to be my loudest detractors, who now are my biggest supporters. Some of these people I even now call friends. All because of authentically thanking them for their criticism. Gratitude is a practice that is unexpected and admired.
It’s not guaranteed that thanking your critic will be accepted or appreciated, but then again gratitude is not about them anyway. Gratitude is about your attitude regarding what you have received. Criticism has a way of keeping us humble – humbleness is certainly something to be thankful for even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment. (Psalm 18:27, 25:9, 55:19, 149:4, Proverbs 11:2)
Reflect and Learn from Criticism
After you have allowed yourself time to get your emotions in check and have properly thanked your critic, you can now accurately reflect on what (if any) wisdom has actually been offered to you. The worst thing you could do when offered healthy criticism is completely ignore it. Reflect and try to learn something from it.
Part of learning to accept criticism is knowing what to do with it when it’s full of valuable wisdom. Oftentimes even overly critical assessments have a grain of truth to them. Look for the grain and throw out the chaff. (Matthew 3:12)
A mature practice for evaluating a criticism is taking it to the Lord and asking him for truth and a trusted friend to help you discern what you can glean from a critique. Once a truth has been identified and confirmed you can implement the truth into how you conduct yourself or into your project for the future.
Healthy criticism can be an empowering tool to help you succeed.
Be Graceful in your Own Criticisms of Others
When we have been the recipient of heavy criticism we can react with extremes in how we critique others. We can find ourselves dishing out heavy criticism in both situations warranted and unwarranted. We can also take the extreme opposite and never give critique out of fear, even when asked.
It is important to recognize that criticism itself is NOT a bad thing. This is true even if your own experience has not been a positive one.
Remember, healthy critique can be quite beneficial to the improvement of a project, idea or thought process and behavior. Giving others an honest and graceful critique that first identifies both worth and value is a healthy way to encourage someone. After receiving encouragement most people are then more open to hearing the faults or failures that have also been found.
Remember giving healthy criticism involves dialogue in a way that is designed to help improve, support or encourage the person and their work, idea, or behavior. It’s not about you raising yourself or your ideas above another person. It’s about empowering another person to be better.
Questions to ask yourself:
What is my most honest reaction to criticism?
Is my reaction to criticism due to a past unhealthy critique I have received? Have I forgiven the critic who hurt me with an unhealthy critique?
Is there an area of my life I am needing a healthy critique to empower me toward success?
Have I been graceful in my criticism of others? Is this an area in which I need improvement?