Tips  on spiritual growth, emotional health, and relational healing.


Are They Really Haters? A New Approach to Criticism

Aug 8, 2017

Do you have any toxic people in your life? I think we all have at least one. Some of us wish we had only one!

criticism avoiding criticism the value of criticism new message on phone

One of the signs you are interacting with a toxic person is they cannot be criticized or questioned. They refuse to acknowledge any negative feedback.

I once worked on a team with a woman who believed her failures were always someone else’s fault. She had pro-level talent at deflecting blame and throwing others under the bus – it really was quite amazing! All positive outcomes were because of her skill and all negative outcomes were the failure of someone else. Her blind spots seemed to have a Navy SEAL team defending them, ensuring their preservation. It felt like someone threw a party the day our supervisor finally bit the bullet and let her go. It may sound harsh, but we were all more excited to come to work once she was gone.


We’re All Worthy of Being Criticized

The truth is we all make mistakes on a daily basis. We fail to see issues with 100% objectivity. Our intentions don’t always map to our actions. We hurt people we love. We forget what we should have remembered.

As a result, all of us are worthy of being criticized.

So, if you’re talking to someone who cannot be corrected, criticized, or given feedback, beware! As a pastor, I know too many leaders in the church space who build a team of people who insulate them from anything but positive feedback. I know organizations which weed out anyone who hasn’t “drank the kool-aid.” As Jon Acuff says, leaders who cannot be questioned one day do questionable things.

I’m all for having a team who is all-in, but if there is not a space for honest, healthy feedback, then there is not a space for growth and transformation.


Every Person Who Criticizes You Is Not a “Hater”

Before you think this is a church-bashing post, this challenge is cultural, not church-specific. Our aversion to criticism is pervasive.

We live in a world where we quickly label anyone who criticizes us as a hater. We do this at our own peril, though. Criticism is not necessarily hateful; sometimes it can be an expression of love.

There is a stark difference between sharing critical feedback and being a critic. The latter is marked by what we might call a “critical spirit.” The first has the intention of making us better, the latter normally just makes us bitter.

(Oh and let’s note the meaningful contribution of professional critics who help the public at large cut through all the noise in a particular industry to decipher value and worth. But critics should heed these powerful words from the movie Ratatouille.)


Getting Criticized is Never Easy

Here’s the bottom line – most of us avoid criticism. And just as we noted with adversity, we shun it at great personal loss. We miss out on opportunities within this obstacle.

Some of us are terrified of a negative comment to a social media post or a harsh email. Therefore, we even avoid doing the very things we were created to do out of fear of criticism.

If that’s you, and you’re avoiding those opportunities because you’ve been hurt, I get it! I have my share of scars too.

I have my share of scars too…

…There’s the friend who told me I was ignoring people who I deemed as not worthy of my attention.

…And the time a supervisor told me it seemed like I ignored the perspectives of people who were older than me and disagreed with me.

…The infamous email I received stating I’d brought the whore of Babylon on to our church’s stage.

…The time when a teammate asked me if I didn’t trust them to do their job because I kept stepping in and taking over things I’d asked them to be responsible for overseeing. 

Hearing or reading those words weren’t easy. I didn’t always respond with openness and receptivity. And not all of those assessments were 100% accurate. But without them, I wouldn’t be here today!


We Cannot Thrive Without Criticism and Negative Feedback

I want you to thrive. And we cannot thrive without negative feedback and criticism. As a pastor, I think about all the men and women who would’ve never fulfilled their callings without this kind of input.

In Exodus 18, Jethro told his nephew, Moses, a really painful piece of feedback. He says “what you are doing is unhealthy for you and your people, Moses.” Without this feedback, Moses would’ve burned out and the people would’ve revolted.

In 2 Samuel 12, Nathan rebuked David for his sin against God and man using a clever series of questions and a hypothetical situation. If Nathan hadn’t been honest, David wouldn’t have been broken and moved to repentance.

In Galatians 2, Paul called out Peter for compromising out of fear of unpopularity, which led him into hypocrisy. Unless Paul had loving confronted Peter, Peter would’ve led others down the wrong path with his influence.


What’s at Stake? 5 Things We Miss Out on When We Avoid Criticism

If we continue to avoid criticism…

…labeling everyone who shares negative feedback as a “hater”…

…and avoid taking risks out of fear of being criticized…

…we’ll miss out on experiencing these 5 gifts.

1) Criticism gives us self-awareness of our blind spots.

I’ve written extensively about the importance of self-awareness. It’s the leading indicator of success among executives. It’s also a symptom of emotional intelligence and health. While we may not think about it often, we cannot avoid its absence in someone we’re around and we’re grateful for it in the character of the people we love.

We all have blind spots. Like it is with the cars we drive on the road, blind spots are collisions waiting to happen. What we can’t see can hurt us and others. When we get criticized, we gain self-awareness of our blind spots. We see things from a different point-of-view, often one we wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

2) Criticism can clarify our thinking.

Criticism forces us to re-evaluate our perspective(s). We clarify our thinking as we prepare to communicate it to another person. When we’re forced to explain what we believe and why, we either gain a deeper commitment to that point-of-view or we realize a need to adjust and change. When we avoid criticism, our thinking can remain underdeveloped and cloudy to others.

For several years, I’ve employed a ten-step checklist which helps me process negative feedback. The process almost always leads me to greater clarity. You can read about the checklist here,

3) Criticism can increase our humility.

Many times, we resist criticism because of pride. I love how C.S. Lewis described pride. Lewis said, “Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

In other instances, we resist criticism because we’re insecure. Pride and arrogance reflect an over-inflated view of self. Insecurity is an underdeveloped sense of who we are. Humility is a sober-minded view of ourselves.

Receiving and processing criticism can either produce or preserve humility in our hearts. On multiple occasions, I’ve thanked God for my critics. God used them to deal with an area of pride or insecurity in me, which would’ve gone unaddressed otherwise.

4) Criticism often establishes new connections.

I’m not suggesting that every critic is a best friend waiting to happen. Let’s be realistic! But a moment of criticism is an act of transparency and risk, especially if the person is close to us. They have something to lose by sharing negative feedback with us. Have you ever considered having empathy for your critic? And if we respond with a reciprocal amount of transparency, a connection can be made or deepened.

When we’re criticized, we have a chance to respond to the vulnerability of another with some vulnerability of our own. If we respond with a reciprocal amount of transparency, a connection can be made or deepened.

As I’ve said here before, accountability cannot be imposed, only invited. If someone cares about us enough to share criticism with us for our good, this person could become an accountability partner for us as we pursue change. Where that person has shown trustworthiness, we could invite them to give us feedback like this at a prescribed time.

One of my supervisors once received blistering from a person who attended our church. Instead of responding in kind, he picked up the phone and called the individual asking for a lunch appointment. A couple hours later, a critic had been transformed into a friend. This critic was carrying deep personal pain which was the source of their abrasive personality and negative disposition. My supervisor looked beyond the critique to the person. I watched as this critic experienced significant transformation over the next 18 months – all because someone cared enough to connect and not simply attack back.

5) Navigating criticism builds resiliency.

One dictionary website defines resiliency as follows. “Resiliency is a quality in objects to hold or recover their shape, or in people to stay intact. This is a kind of strength. If you bend a fork and it bends right back — that’s resiliency. A car that is in an accident only has a few scratches has resiliency: it holds up and keeps its shape.”

It’s one thing for a fork or car to show resiliency. It’s quite another for a person. The person who has not been critiqued or cannot be critiqued is missing a key character component.

We will all face life situations where we will need to stand against the wind. We will be called upon to stand firm with an unpopular opinion or stance. Life will hand us adversity or crisis and we’ll be called to step up to the challenge.

In his book, Integrity: The Courage to Meet Life’s Demands, Dr. Henry Cloud differentiates between immaturity and maturity. He writes, “immaturity is asking life to meet your demands, where maturity is meeting the demands of life.”

I’m convinced we cannot become healthy mature people without resiliency. Life will demand that we not only show up on hard days but endure them. We will fall and be called upon to get back up.

I’ve received criticism which sent me to my knees. Sometimes it was the source I didn’t expect, other times it was the harsh, personal attack which cut me to the core. Being criticized never becomes easy, but we can develop a sense of resiliency which enables us to bounce back faster and better than the previous time.

If we want to become all we were created to be, we need obstacles like adversity and criticism to act like sandpaper and smooth off our rough edges. But if we run from or resist these obstacles, we’ll remain rough and incomplete. We might be even worse – static and stuck.

What About You?

When have you received criticism or negative feedback which helped you grow? How are you who you are today because of someone who shared something you didn’t want to hear?

Newsletter Signup

Get a new email from Scott every week!

Sign up to receive weekly tips on spritual growth, emotional health, and relational healing. I’ll also send you 3 of my most popular resources as a thank you!