Feb 152013 15 Responses

Criticism: How to Listen When Others Speak

In yesterday’s post, Criticism: How to Speak So Others Will Listen, I surveyed why I listen to some criticism but not others. Understanding how people effectively speak to me can train me to speak effectively to others.

Learning to criticize is an important trait, but learning to listen to criticism is far more important.

We cannot change unless we hear the difficult truth about ourselves and our actions. Those which do not listen to criticism are doomed to mediocrity and destined to miss the potential which lies within them. Yet criticism often touches on our deepest wounds and causes defensiveness which closes our ears to protect our hearts.

Here are some ways we can receive criticism in a useful and healthy way:

Listen, knowing you could be wrong. Receiving criticism is a test of humility. It reminds us the world isn’t always as we see it. It broadens our perspective and understanding on issues. It calls attention to our biases and blind spots. Someone who is not open to criticism may have fallen for the deception that they are always right. No one is always right. Listen because it is very possible you could be wrong.

Listen, knowing they could be wrong. Hearing criticism is different from heeding criticism. We should be quick to listen, but slow to take what is said as the authoritative word. The person critiquing has just as much chance of being wrong as they do of being right. We should listen, but not assume they are right. Even if they are wrong, their critique can be helpful. It can reveal misconceptions and ways something can be communicated better. Hearing an opposing view can often strengthen our understanding of our perspective. Criticism doesn’t have to be right for it to be helpful.

Listen, no matter their expertise. Often someone without our experience or knowledge can give tremendous insight. Expertise is not a requirement for good advice. It is easy to get blinded by the complexity of an issue, and a person with less experience or knowledge looking at the issue with more simplicity can see more clearly.

Listen to their intent not their words. We are bad at giving criticism. We often say the wrong things and we often say it the wrong way. When hearing criticism we need to be full of grace. If someone approaches something the wrong way or says the wrong thing, look past what was said and find their intent. Something provoked them to speak; hear their intent before judging what they have said.

Listen, learn, but be careful who you follow. While we can listen and learn from anyone, we must very carefully choose who will be the most influential voices in our lives. (For more, see Who Has Your Ear) Listening to criticism is important, but so is listening to voices which affirm our work and encourage our spirit. While we should try to learn from everyone, we should be very discerning in choosing who we follow.

Receiving criticism is a challenging task, but change is impossible without. We will never regret learning how to listen.

“Listen to advice and accept instruction that you may gain wisdom in the future.” Proverbs 19.20

15 Responses to Criticism: How to Listen When Others Speak
  1. Melinda W. Bigelow Reply

    Very well said.

  2. tracy winchell Reply

    I continue to pray about this…mad have posted it to the city of fort smith – city hall web page. I also plan to share with senior staff prior to our next staff meeting. And the second of this series in subsequent weeks. Thank you for your leadership.

    • Kevin Reply

      Thanks for the kindness and sharing with others.

  3. Denny Neff Reply

    Please take what I am about to say as praise to God our Father and his son Jesus Christ… I am so in awe and have never before been around a group of men who have such wisdom and humility and you my friend and Pastor and the men of Community Bible. Your words, your guidance are so tempered with Grace that I am always bowled over. Thank you for sharing that which God has given you. With each blog I find myself encouraged and challenged. I am so grateful to God that He led Beverly and I to such a faith community as this. Your teaching on criticism is so timely and so needed. Again thank you.

    • Kevin Reply

      That is very kind Denny. Thank you so much. These blogs are more about who I want to be than who I am. I want to live these things out on a regular basis but I struggle with a great consistency.

  4. lyndz Reply

    hi! this truly helps me while I am doing the cell material for the small groups in our church! haha since the topic is about criticism and listening is on it. thanks for this article! -Lyndel from Phils. 🙂 God bless!

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  9. Mike Reply

    Excellent article; thanks for writing it; just a typo heads up… “strength our understanding” > “strengthen our understanding”. Thanks for writing this!

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