Dealing with Overly Critical People
“Father, help us to apply the message we heard from your word today. In Jesus’ name, we pray, amen.”
Service was now over. I grab my ESV (English Standard Version) Bible and my iPad and step out of the pulpit to meet and greet some people. As I work my way around the room, I run into a particular fellow believer in the Lord. We make eye contact and speak. After exchanging pleasantries, this person immediately proceeds to critique my sermon. And I think to myself, Is this really happening right now? Again?! Every time I see you, you always have some “constructive” criticism you feel you need to share with me. Instead of speaking my mind, by God’s grace, I held my tongue, smiled, listened and nodded my head to let this person know I heard what was said. But when I left that encounter, I was a tad bit perturbed. I knew I had prayerfully done my best to rightly interpret the Scripture passage and worked hard on the sermon structure and presentation. But apparently that wasn’t good enough; at least for this individual.
Although this incident was somewhat unpleasant to me at the time, it got me to thinking about how to deal with such people. Here are seven thoughts on the matter:
1. Pray for them
We are commanded in Scripture to pray for all people (1 Timothy 2:1). This of course includes, by way of application, our critics. And it would be better to offer intercessory rather than imprecatory prayers (You know, those prayers where we, like David, asks God to bring judgment on our enemies).
I have found that in praying for them God has a way of inclining my heart towards them; to see them “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
Through praying for them, I am also reminded that we all as believers stand as sinful yet redeemed saints (because of and) in the presence of our sinless Savior, and are all in need of the Spirit’s help to continue to repent of and fight against sin and to live holy, grace-filled, Christ-like lives.
2. Be genuinely cordial
God, through the Apostle Paul, instructs us to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Corinthians 13:12). Don’t get tripped up by the holy kiss statement. Paul is essentially saying, welcome and accept one another in whatever way is culturally and personally appropriate and acceptable in your particular context and to the person or people whom you are with.
We have a tendency to pull away from people who are routinely critical of us to the point where we might even try to avoid speaking to them. As hard (or maybe convenient) as it might be at times, when you come in contact with them, pray for God to help you sincerely acknowledge and not dodge them.
3. Accept any kernels of truth
I believe it is Billy Graham who is noted to have said, “There is a kernel of truth in every criticism.” Though not always the case, I would say that is generally true and a good maxim to live by. To say it another way, when overly critical people come to you, learn to eat the meat (if there is any) and spit out the bones.
I know how difficult it can be at times to hear criticism from that person. But if and when it is true, see it as a precious jewel from God to be received even though it came in an undesirable package.
4. Don’t assume motive
Some people who criticize you don’t always do so out of jealousy or envy. Sometimes people are just passionate and want to see the best for the ministry, church, company, etc. They have a knack for spotting what is wrong, which can be of benefit to your life, work, and leadership. They just don’t know (or care to know) how to be tactful. And, yes, you do have those who have impure, sinful motives or impetuses behind their critique. But my point still remains, when you don’t know why someone is incessantly pointing out things about you to you, be careful about assuming the negative concerning them. You may have good reason to be skeptical of their motives, but try to stay as neutral as possible. Seek to give them the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise.
5. Dismiss their misconceptions
I remember one time after I had preached a person came up to me at the end of service and proceeded to adamantly correct me on a point I made in the message. I am by no means above correction or making mistakes, but I knew in this instance I had done my homework and that my statement was true to the Scripture. But he/she insisted that I was wrong. There was no convincing this individual that I was indeed correct in what I had said. So, I just nodded and said “That’s interesting. I hear you. I appreciate it.” But in my mind I simply dismissed his/her misconception.
“Why didn’t you correct them on the spot?” you ask. Certainly, there are times when we can and should do so. But, for me, I felt like that was not one of them; plus, I didn’t think it would have been beneficial or received well. That following week the individual came up to me and apologized.
6. Talk with them about their approach
There are those who mean well in their criticism but may be clueless as to how their delivery is negatively affecting it from being readily received. At some point, you probably will have to call them out on their approach. Remember: do it prayerfully, lovingly, sensitively, privately, and directly.
7. Limit your interaction with them
Unfortunately, even after lovingly seeking to address someone’s overly-critical tendency and insensitive approach towards you, he/she might remain obstinate in his/her ways. When all else has failed, one of the best things you can do for that person and for your own sanity and sanctification is to limit your interaction with him/her. You don’t necessarily have to walk in the opposite direction when you see him/her coming your way. Just walk by, speak (if you stop and talk to them, keep it short and sweet), and keep it moving.
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:1-2)