How to Keep Criticism From Getting the Best of You

Jun 22, 2010

If you live any kind of public life, criticism is part of your day. You know this. I know this. But it doesn’t make it any easier to take.

I’ve long cowered under criticism. Trying to please everyone is my Achilles heal. As a result I’ve often responded to criticism with either absolute devastation or rigid defensiveness. Neither one glamorous, trust me. And, as it turns out, neither one is helpful for either personal or relational growth.

I’m learning it’s impossible to manage the moods and opinions of everyone. And it’s not my job. It takes all my energy to manage my own! So although I’d love for everyone to love me, I’ve retired from managing my own fan club. Instead I’m focusing more on accepting the reality of criticism, allowing enough margin for the humanity of myself and others AND learning the art of knowing when to take notes and when to disregard. Here are a few of my secrets for navigating criticism:

  1. Accept Your Humanity: There was a time I received every criticism as a personal failure. Failure is a huge word, one that can deflate a sense of value and purpose in no time. Erase “failure” from your vocabulary. Accept that you ARE human and you WILL disappoint people from time to time. It’s part of being alive and in relationship. And don’t forget: simply saying “I’m sorry” can be a beautiful, beautiful thing.
  2. Consider The Source: If the complaint comes anonymously, DISREGARD. I have no tolerance or respect for anonymous complaints. Any criticism should be for the sole purpose of making you a better person. That’s the whole concept behind “speaking the truth in love.” If the person loves you and wants the best for you, she will have no qualms about putting her name with her position. Beyond that, consider who is offering the criticism. Is there a history of love and respect? Does this person behave with integrity in her life? Does she make a habit of criticizing others or is this out of the norm?
  3. Look Behind the Emotion: Hurt can often cloud truth. In other words, if someone approaches you with a complaint sourced in their own wounds, their message might be hidden in the emotion of the moment. Listen intently. Acknowledge feelings. Then see if you can get to the heart of the matter behind the emotions. Sometimes the smallest of fires can put off a whole lot of smoke.
  4. Identify Patterns: When I hear a concern or criticism more than once (from different people), I stop and pay attention. Patterns indicate there may be something going on that I need to remedy, something that I’ve previously missed.
  5. Take it to the Boardroom: Pray about it. Share the criticism with someone who knows you well, and isn’t afraid to tell you the truth. I like to picture taking any criticism to an invisible boardroom. At the table sits the person with the complaint, a trusted confidant or two, me and God who knows me better than anyone else. I consider input from all of the above. Then, like separating the wheat from the chaff, I hang on to any nuggets of truth and throw the rest away.

How do you deal with criticism?

(pic used courtesy of 4seasons at stock.xchng)


  1. Susan

    Bookmarked this one. Good guidelines to navigate through the muddied waters of emotion, self-centeredness and other people's stuff. It's been always hard for me to handle criticism gracefully and with balance.

    • Michele Cushatt

      It's tough, isn't? Especially that "balance" thing. My pendulum often swings to one extreme or the other. But I'm getting better! That's good news for everyone I live with. 🙂 Miss seeing you, Susan!

  2. alece

    oooooh! this was good for me. especially timely for me right now, as i've gotten even more criticism than usual in the past month. sigh… thank you, michele.

    oh, and by the way… i'd be happy to manage your fan club for you if you'd like! 😉

    • Michele Cushatt

      You??? Getting criticism??? Let me at 'em … 😉

  3. Heidi

    I read this before my workout and now just have the time to come and respond. I have been getting a barrage of criticism lately. Some times I want to throw my hands up a scream. Being a people pleaser down to the cells of my body, I too want perfect harmony. I am finding like you did there is no one that I can please more than my heavenly Father. My family, firends, the corporate world I work in are not what define me. It's Him. So I hold on that.

    I love the list and now have printed it out and put it in my journal. I think it will allow me to release, surrender, and keep moving and take it to the "boardroom" alot more!

    • Michele Cushatt

      You, too??? Getting criticism? I'm so sorry. I've got the people-pleasing disease, too. Glad we're both learning that God alone holds our value. Thanks for the nice feedback, Heidi. 🙂


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