Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Bible teaching about 
handling criticism

The Bible teaching about handling criticism will mean more for some than others. You and I both experience criticism: spouses, bosses, peers, cranky family members, neighbors, etc. Some people, maybe you are one of them, have thicker skins that others. I marvel at how politicians can take severe disapproval from opponents, yet the barbs seem to have no effect. 

This much is as certain as rain falling from heaven, and the tide coming and going: pastors and Christian leaders will face opposition. It is a fact of life and leadership. 

Paul knew this when he wrote Timothy about handling criticism, “And the Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Timothy 2:24, 25). 

Again, he wrote, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 2:2). His point is that you and I have to deal with criticism, but there is a right and wrong way to do it.

Taking the tenor of Paul’s words, I suggest 12 principles that if you follow will help you in handling criticism with success. After all, you want to win others to your side, not destroy them. A companion study that deals with the fear of rejection is here. 

Listen to the Other Person

Yelling doesn’t help. Listening defuses much. Show genuine interest in the other person. Relax and listen actively and carefully to what the other person is saying. Hear the meaning of their words. Sometimes deep breathing helps you to relax. Let the other person have their say, to finish, to finally run down. Try to coax out their deepest concerns and interests. This is the first step in handling criticism.

Paraphrase their Words

Summarize back to the person what they have said. This will help the other person know that you have really heard what they have said. It indicates that you value their opinion, and reduces their hostility and fear. You can start with something like, “I value your opinion, and I want to make sure I understand you correctly. Your point is that….”

Evaluate Their Viewpoint

This step in handling criticism involves deciding whether the criticism is fair or unfair, accurate or inaccurate. Don’t become stubborn, dig in your heels, and refuse to consider the other’s opinion. The criticism might be correct. Sometimes our critics are our best friends, and can see our blind spots where we cannot. 

If the accusation is unfair or inaccurate, then kindly bring up the issue of unfairness. Clarify what is inaccurate. I don’t mean for you to become defensive, but to honestly get all the facts on the table as they are – not as you or the other person want them to be. 

Affirm the Other Person

Do not attack the other person, tell them they are wrong, and seek to destroy them. Let them know they have brought up an important point, and that you value your relationship with them. Stick to issues, don’t assail the other person. Handling criticism is not about winning a war, but to arrive at the truth and resolving differences of opinion. It is about strengthening relationships, trust, respect, and loyalties. 

Clarify the Issue

In handling criticism, clarify foggy accusations. Sometimes people cannot explain their position well. Strong emotions may be clogging up their brain. An example of a somewhat vague or unclear accusation is, “You are cold with people.” Probe and ask what they mean by “cold.” Ask for specific examples, but ask in an attitude of seeking to understand – not to prove them wrong.

Ask for Advice

Remember that when criticized, the other person might be right. We may have to swallow our pride and make adjustments. If the criticism is valid, then ask for specific alternatives on how to behave or handle the situation differently. When you are wrong, quickly admit it, and change course.

Avoid Excuses

This is a killer in handling criticism. It will only make matters worst if you offer up excuses, blame others, or deny, minimize or cover up mistakes. You will weaken your position as a leader, and erode trust. People will perceive you as a weak, inept leader. Accept responsibility for your wrong, and make changes the best you can. 

Disagree When Necessary

In handling criticism, I don’t mean you have to always take the blame when things go wrong – even when you are right. First, head for common ground, not fighting ground. Too many times people search out and fight about what they disagree on, rather than discovering what they agree on. No two people will agree on everything.

Like Paul said, when you have to correct or disagree be kind and patient, be a problem solver as opposed to quarrelsome, and be careful to teach and explain. Stay away from accusatory statements, but go with “I” statements. For example, “I think you misinterpreted what I said,” as opposed to, “You are dead wrong and dumb.” Include the other person in the problem solving, and display genuine affection.

Stay Under Control

Keep emotions in check. Speak low and slow to calm the other person. Smile often and use their name. Sometimes it is best to take a time out and address the issue after everyone has calmed down. Assure the other person that things are not terrible, that God is still in control, and life will go on.

Share Feelings

In handling criticism, sometimes it is appropriate to share your feelings. Verbalize your genuine feelings about the matter. For example, “I am annoyed that you are bringing up this issue again,” or “It is not easy for me to take this criticism.” However, avoid trading insult for insult and “getting even” (Cf. Romans 12:17, 18). Don’t hold grudges, but forgive. 

Prayer Helps

Jesus said to, “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). It is very effective in a disagreement to stop and bring God into the conversation. It tends to change people’s attitude when they realize God is present.

Terminating the Relationship

Sometimes relationships need to be ended. Paul said, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be a peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). But, he also instructed Titus, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning” (Titus 3:10). When the fighting, criticism, contempt, blaming, and stonewalling reach a certain point, then it is best to leave – or let the other person leave (Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:10-13, 27, 28).

With this in mind, Esmie and I hope these principles will help you in dealing with the inevitable criticism that will come your way in leadership – or just life in general. God bless you. 

Dr. Willis and Esmie Newman

Bible study Questions

1. What is James injunction when faced with conflict (James 1:19, 20)?

2. Describe the desired attitude when handling criticism (2 Timothy 2:23-26).

3. How did Paul instruct Timothy to act in handling criticism (2 Timothy 3:10-14).

4. Explain how injustices will be dealt with in handling criticism (2 Timothy  4:14-18; Romans 12:19).

5. What are your typical feelings when you are criticized? How do you respond? How does the situation generally end up?

6. Based on this lesson, what could you do better to relate to criticism? Note: also compare the lesson on fear of rejection.

7. How is the best way to disagree with another person while letting them save face?

8. How is the best way in handling criticism when it is correct?

9. Do you always have to be right? Explain.

10. What stands out to you the most in this study? Explain.

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