Mar 182014 9 Responses

Three Reasons People Criticize You

Critics. We’ve all got ’em.

Rare is the occurrence in which there isn’t at least one person who thinks you could be a better employee, spouse, parent, or citizen.

For many, the critics whisper. They talk behind our backs or make passive aggressive comments. They critique an action or attitude.

For a few, the critics scream—coaches, pastors, CEOs, and several other professions are in positions in which critics feel a right to express their every opinion.

One of the most surprising aspects of the pastorate is the amount of criticism which I receive. And I’m in a good situation. I can’t imagine being in a church where criticism is the norm or to walk into a new situation where I wouldn’t have a lengthy track record to lean on. (See: Top 10 Communication Posts your Co-workers Should Read)

Criticism is a part of life. The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing. Yet doing nothing is rarely a good option. Instead of trying to avoid criticism, we all need to learn to receive criticism. Much of this depends on our ability to have humility. Yet it also depends on our ability to view the critic in the proper lens.

Generally speaking, most critics fall into one of three categories:

1. Someone who is insecure. A good amount of criticism is poured out of insecurity. When someone is not comfortable with themselves, they point out the faults and flaws of others. They attempt to make themselves feel better by making others feel worse. Many times criticism says more about the person doing the criticizing than the person to whom the critic is aimed.

2. Someone with something to hide. Early in the pastorate I watched someone deal with a very public mistake. Most people were extremely gracious, but one person was very harsh. A few years went by and it was revealed that the harsh person was guilty of a very similar sin. What I thought was an odd coincidence has turned into a pattern. Often times the loudest critic is hiding a secret sin. They treat others in a harsh manner because they are ashamed of themselves. I often tell someone who is facing criticism to act kindly toward their harshest critic and wait. Time often reveals they aren’t as perfect as they would seem.

3. Someone who is most like you. My friend Steve Brawner made this brilliant connection when he said, “a parent’s greatest critic is someone raising their child in almost the same way.” The key point is “almost.” The small difference is the point where the strong criticism is raised. Maybe the commonality raises expectations to a level which can’t be met, but the nuanced differences can become points of deep contention. We recognize this in other places—the more like us a child is, the more prone they are to irritate us. We probably have the most contention with the parent who is most like us. Friends and co-workers irritate us the more similar our personalities.

Whenever we receive criticism, we should not first consider which of these three characteristics our critic posseses. Instead, we should listen and consider the criticism. Yet after it is heard and evaluated, it is fair to consider the intent of the person who is doing the criticizing. We can take what they say within the context of one or more of these characteristics.

Yet the most important byproduct of knowing the three main categories of those who criticize is we can use it to ask a key question: whenever I criticize someone, is my criticism born from any of these three characteristics? Am I truly critiquing a situation or am I speaking from insecurity, trying to cover something up, or simply frustrated because someone who seems totally like me is just a little bit like me?

For more, see:

Criticism: How to Listen When Others Speak

Criticism: How to Speak so Others will Listen

9 Responses to Three Reasons People Criticize You
  1. David Pulliam Reply

    Interesting points! I’ll have to watch for those. Wondering what if you really like yourself, then would friends and co-workers irritate us with our similarities? I don’t think I have difficulties with friends and coworkers, but then I only offer criticism if I am asked what I think….except maybe here… Hope I don’t irritate too much! 🙂

  2. glendakuhn Reply

    It seems like I become most frustrated about people of whom I have very high expectations. My expectations exceed their human ability. Perhaps a pedestal mentality. I put them up too high, then when they cannot meet my lofty expectations, I find fault. I need to learn to accept people just because as they are, humans.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      So true Glenda. Frustration is probably a great indicator of our expectations more than a reflection of someone’s performance.

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  5. David M. Smith Reply

    Hi Kevin, at the risk of sounding critical, I think you may have whiffed a little on this one. I’ve never heard or read a Pastor stating the positive aspects of criticism. Perhaps this is because Pastors have such a desire to love and be loved. Anyway, I made a decision a long time ago to not get defensive when I hear criticism. This was hard at first, but the more I thought about the criticism I received, the more I realized the criticism gave me the opportunity to clarify my position or my actions to the critic. More often than not, the criticism was a way of the critic telling me they didn’t understand what I was doing or what I was claiming. People who don’t care don’t criticize. I’ll take the critic over those who don’t care any day. The greatest joy I get in life is when I get criticism from on of my daughters because I get the absolute unfiltered truth and I get the chance to explain something they previously did not understand. I love your stuff; keep up the good work. God bless.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      David, good points. We can probably distinguish between someone criticizing an idea or action versus someone criticizing a person. For example, if someone critiques a decision of mine, that is fair game. It would fit under the qualifications of the two links in this article. However, when one person said they were disgusted in me yesterday and another implied my early death might be a good thing for the world, they would fall into this article.

  6. David M. Smith Reply

    Hi again Kevin, too often complaining and venting gets lumped in with criticism. Complaining and venting are rude, but it seems to me that criticism should be encouraged, not discouraged. I think we want caring and critical followers of Christ in our Churches. Jesus was very critical of religious leaders. A Pastor filled with the Holy Spirit is not going to be as hypocritical as the Pharisees, but human nature being what it is, some Pastors will misuse their power. It is good when members of a Church feel free to speak up with their criticisms and questions. It is bad when they feel pressure to keep quite and conform. Someone who is always criticizing probably has their own issues they should be dealing with, but someone who feels free to criticize and occasionally uses this freedom to address issues is a Church asset.

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