I remember it all to well, the day my lead pastor walked into my office with an envelope in his hand. He asked if I had a few minutes to chat, which we all know is code for "you're screwed". He gave me the letter and let me read it. It was from an anonymous parent that was less than pleased with how things had went for their teenager in the student ministry I was leading. The letter was scathing, calling me names I'd rather not repeat and questioning my leadership. The parent, who wrote the letter, held nothing back. Instead of delivering the letter to me, of course, they sent it to my lead pastor. I was mad, I was hurt and since the letter wasn't signed with a name I tried to figure out who could have written such a letter. I will never forget that conversation, I will never forget the letter and I still to this day have no idea who wrote it. So my question is, how do you handle criticism?
If you are in ministry long enough you learn quickly that criticism comes with the territory. As a general rule, most people respond to criticism poorly. I know that my first reaction is to put up my walls and get defensive. I get defensive because I feel they are taking a shot at my character, my identity and my competency. If I am totally transparent with you, I hate criticism, constructive criticism and negative criticism. I don't like knowing Im not good enough or at least feeling like I'm not good enough.
Taking a defensive stance on criticism is the least effective way to approach push back. Below are three ways I am learning (yes, learning cause its still hard sometimes) to deal with criticism.
1. Consider The Source
Who is it that is bringing criticism? The answer to this question dictates how much stock you should place in the push back. There are people who are going to negative about pretty much anything. There are people who will always go to bat for you. When the people that usually go to bat for you are giving you feedback, you should probably listen a little harder. On the flip side, do not give the wrong people more credit than they should have. Ask yourself, "does this person bring a perspective that I should listen to?" The answer to that question will lead you into the next point.
2. Where's The Truth
Once you have determined whether the person giving feedback is a perspective you need to listen to, you need to find the truth in their statement, feedback or criticism. More often than not, they are not 100% correct in what they are saying. What if their feedback is 50% right? Shouldn't that be enough to take note of and acknowledge? Even if its just 10% correct, its worth taking in and acknowledging the truth that is there. When you look for the truth in the feedback/criticism you are approaching it with humility. That posture of humility when receiving feedback/criticism helps you evaluate honestly and allows you the opportunity to grow and not be offended.
3. Humbly Respond
Your response to the person bringing the feedback/criticism will let them know what type of a leader you are. Humble leaders are gracious in their response, quick to acknowledge truth and will own mistakes or short comings to provide a clear road to resolution. Every person deserves a gracious response, no matter the circumstances and no matter how fired up you might be. If you need to wait a day, a week or longer in order to garner a humble response then wait the appropriate amount of time. Your response will leave a lasting impression of you and your organization.
Those are just some things I have learned and still need to be reminded of often. So what about you? How do you handle criticism? Do you have any good tricks you use?