A note from Kelly King: Leaders must be willing to open themselves up for feedback—whether it’s positive or negative. Not everyone knows how to give productive criticism, but knowing how to respond to criticism can take you from being a good leader to a great leader. I know you’ll learn much from LifeWay trainer Martha Lawley.
Nobody likes to be criticized. We all prefer more positive feedback. However, all leaders are going to encounter criticism, and how we respond to criticism matters greatly. I’ve discovered that when I refuse to listen to and consider the criticism of others, I miss opportunities to learn and grow as a leader.
Of course, not all criticism is helpful. But neither is all criticism harmful. Learning to navigate criticism and discerning what you need to receive to lead well is something we need God’s help to do.
Here are 4 things God has taught me about receiving and responding to criticism:
1. Respond to criticism as you want others to respond to your suggestions, concerns, questions, and criticism.
I’ve learned that “criticism” is often in the eye of the beholder. When I give feedback or offer suggestions to others, I don’t consider that criticism. But when others give me feedback, express concerns, or offer suggestions, I believe I’m being criticized. We each have a strong self-bias that results in a kind of double standard. This is particularly true concerning criticism.
God is helping me deal with my own double standard when it comes to receiving criticism by focusing my attention on how I want others to respond to my criticism or concerns. I want to be listened to and to have dialogue about the issues. I also want others to assume the best of my intentions—to see that I want to contribute and give reliable feedback.
Giving others grace when we believe we are being criticized does not come naturally. Assuming the best of them as they question our decisions is not our first thought. We need God’s help! He is still teaching me to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (Jas. 1:19).
Ephesians 4:2-3: “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
2. Don’t reject criticism because it is hard to hear.
We can become so sensitive to criticism that we accept only praise from others. We see criticism in every question and a conspiracy in every comment. As a result, we begin to believe we don’t owe anyone an explanation.
A genuine openness to feedback—questions, comments, and new ideas—is vital for effective leadership. Listening to and learning from the questions, concerns, ideas, and criticisms of others is vital to leading well. Seeking to understand what may be behind the concerns of others can be very helpful because it exposes us to new issues or reveals potential unintended consequences of our decisions.
Proverbs 18:13: “The one who gives an answer before he listens—
this is foolishness and disgrace for him.”
3. Pray and ask God to show you what you should receive and what you should reject.
I need God’s help to receive and appropriately respond to criticism. My pride is the first and most stubborn obstacle I face in responding to criticism in a way that honors God. So, I continually ask God to humble me—to remind me that my value as a leader is not found in always being right or getting my way.
Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
I’ve learned over the years that I also must continually pray that God will take away any spirit of offense. When I allow myself to become offended, I respond in ways that do not honor God.
Proverbs 19:11: “A person’s insight gives him patience, and his virtue is to overlook an offense.”
Finally, I ask God to give me wisdom and discernment from above so I may recognize the feedback I need to receive—what I need to learn in the situation at hand. I also seek God’s wisdom to know what I should reject as not from God.
4. Resist the temptation to demonize or marginalize those who ask questions or criticize.
My first impulse when criticized is to be defensive or attack back. This is why not seeing all criticism as a personal attack is an important step for me. I’ve learned that only God can change the way I view criticism. Any progress I have made is due to His work in my life.
We will often label those who have opposing viewpoints as “trouble makers,” “just don’t like me,” “are against me,” “are never satisfied,” or “just don’t like change.” While these labels may make us feel better for a while, they are in fact very destructive. Such labels perpetuate an “us versus them” environment that cuts off healthy communication and causes division.
Our attitude about those with whom we disagree matters greatly. If we see them as enemies, we will respond to protect ourselves. If we see them as brothers and sisters in Christ, we will more likely respond to protect our relationship and consider what God may be revealing to us through them.
I recognize that listening to and trying to understand the concerns of those who criticize you doesn’t always result in peace. But, I also understand that we have no hope of getting to a place of greater understanding and peace without listening to others, truly seeking to understand their concerns, taking time to explain our own thoughts (without being defensive), and answering their questions. That is why I believe how we receive and respond to criticism is so important.
Romans 14:19: “So then, let us pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.”
What about you? What is God teaching you about responding to criticism?
Martha began her professional career practicing law in Texas. In 1999, she became the Women’s Consultant for the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention where she served until her family relocated to northern Wyoming. Martha has had many opportunities to lead women’s conferences and retreats nationwide. God has given her a passion for discipleship and called her to minister to women. She is the author of the women’s Bible study, Attending the Bride of Christ: Preparing for His Return. She also serves as a LifeWay Women’s trainer and contributed to the leadership books, Women Reaching Women and Transformed Lives: Taking Women’s Ministry to the Next Level, along with writing articles for the LifeWay Women blog. Martha and her husband Roger have three wonderful children, two fabulous sons-in-law, one amazing daughter-in-law, and four precious grandchildren. Visit her website at www.marthalawley.com for more information.