How to Take Criticism Well

The start of a new year presents a natural opportunity for organizations to pause and reflect on their practices.  But annual reviews can be a source of anxiety as you brace yourself for negative feedback. How do you take criticism well?

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Frozen by Feedback
I have the privilege of leading several endeavors, and at the start of the year I initiated some review processes.  As I collected input from the relevant parties I began to dread the prospect of compiling all the data.  When I actually paused to think about a possible onslaught of negativity, I was frozen by feedback.  Could I take all of that criticism at one time?  How would I remain motivated and hopeful even as I heard about all my weaknesses and shortcomings?

There’s no easy way to take criticism.  When you pour all your energy into a mission, it’s going to hurt when someone tells you where you’re not doing well. But here is one idea to help you take criticism in a healthy way.

Your Job Is Not Your Identity
Too many of us conflate who we are with what we do.  But your job does not define you.  Your work is not your identity.

You know work has become your identity when you have one of two reactions to criticism.  One reaction is defensiveness.  You fiercely advocate for your decisions and actions not based on inherent merit but the emotional response of feeling attacked.  You take the criticism as a personal affront and you react from that place rather than addressing the ideas and facts themselves.

Or at the other extreme, you don’t attack someone else but you attack yourself.  You start to doubt your performance, gifts, skills, and fitness for the role.  You begin to get down on yourself and become your own worst critic.

Even though these responses manifest differently, they have the same root.  When you wrap up your significance in your work any criticism you receive isn’t simply a statement about performance but about your worth as a person.  Realizing your job is not your identity is the first step to healthily receiving feedback as a leader.

Another Basis for Your Identity 
The only healthy way to view your work is to understand that your fundamental identity is not based on what you do but on what Jesus has already done.  When work becomes your identity you have put down roots in the sand, and the slightest breeze of criticism will knock you down. But when Christ is your identity you are like a tree planted by streams of water that bears its fruit in season and its leaf does not wither (Ps. 1).

How can you be free to accept criticism without being crushed by it? How can you have a healthy view of your work and your identity?  How can you stop letting your work determine your worth?

Those who put their faith in Christ trust in what He has achieved in His life, death, resurrection and promised return.  They understand that their own importance does not depend on their performance but on the perfect and sufficient sacrifice of Jesus.

Have you rested in this truth yet?  If so, you’ll be able to take criticism in a healthy way and even solicit more of it for your good and the glory of God.

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