What Do You Do When Someone Critiques You?

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By Nathaniel Williams

My article was brilliant, I thought. I was relatively new in my marketing job, and I had written a promotional article to highlight one of the company’s services. I had toiled over this piece of writing, and by the end I thought I had crafted a masterpiece.

I sent the article to my editor. A few hours later, she responded. I opened the Word document expecting to read words of commendation. Instead, I saw red — lots and lots of red. Her edits, questions and suggestions overwhelmed the document. Evidently my article was not as brilliant as I once thought, and my pride was bruised.

How would you respond in this situation? Would you welcome her feedback, or would you be irritated at the edits?

Or, think about your own job. What do you say when a co-worker tells you how you’re filing your paperwork wrong, or how your sales technique leaves something to be desired, or how your presentations bore the attendees, or how you could be more efficient making lattes? And what if her tone is not one of judgment or pride; she genuinely seems to want the best for you?

Truthfully, most of us don’t like such scenarios. When we sniff even a hint of correction, we bristle like porcupines, ready to defend ourselves from perceived threats. Most of us are not prone to being teachable. We are more likely to be prideful, insecure and defensive.

Is there a better way?

We will become better Christians, friends, spouses, parents and workers when we allow ourselves to be humble (not prideful) and teachable (not defensive).

The Man Who Was Brilliant but Teachable

We read about a similar situation in the book of Acts. A man named Apollos arrived in Ephesus with an impressive resume: He was smart, eloquent, biblically literate, Spirit-filled and zealous for Christ (cf. Acts 18:24-25).

Apollos was the total package — except for one thing: “he knew only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25). Despite his intelligence, eloquence and zeal, Apollos was teaching a deficient understanding of baptism. He knew about John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance; he didn’t know about Jesus’ baptism of belief. His theology, though well-intended, was slightly askew.

Thankfully, Aquila and Priscilla were in town. This tent-making power couple faced a choice. Would they ignore Apollos’ error? Would they publicly rebuke and humiliate him? They chose to do neither. They gently approached Apollos and “took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). They did the same thing my editor did to me in the scenario above: gently offered a word of correction.

Thankfully, Apollos accepted this word of correction, and God later used him in mighty ways to proclaim the good news of Jesus (cf. Acts 18:27-28).

Apollos was brilliant, but he was also teachable. And his willingness to allow others to correct him made him an even better herald of the good news.

Being Teachable

Such is also the case for us. We will become better Christians, friends, spouses, parents and workers when we allow ourselves to be humble (not prideful) and teachable (not defensive). After all, every one of us has blind spots in our lives and work, deficiencies we tend to overlook or ignore. A friend or co-worker can more easily recognize them. When we give them permission to identify these deficiencies in our lives, we can grow.

Such was the case for me and my writing. My editor’s annihilation of my article was painful, but she identified weaknesses in my writing I was unaware of. Because she pointed out my flaws, I became a better writer. The same principle applies in work, faith and life.

To be sure, not every person who brings a critique has our best interest at heart. Some individuals highlight our flaws to hurt us, not heal us. They aim to glorify themselves at our expense. These criticisms are painful, and they do not honor God.

But even in those situations, the teachable person can find the grain of truth within the unfair criticism. He can then acknowledge that error and grow accordingly. We can’t control what people say to us, but we can control how we respond.

Find Your Aquila and Priscilla

Is being teachable always enjoyable? To the contrary. Acknowledging our flaws, weaknesses and mistakes is often a painful, joyless exercise. But we are better for doing so.

Find Aquilas and Priscillas in your work, church and family, and give them permission to point out your flaws and weaknesses. And prayerfully prepare yourself to be humble enough to receive their words. When you are a little askew, they can help you level yourself out. And you will be better for it.

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Nathaniel D. Williams

Editor and Content Manager

Nathaniel D. Williams (M.Div, Southeastern Seminary) oversees the website, podcast and social media for the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, and he serves as the pastor of Cedar Rock First Baptist Church. His work has appeared at Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, Fathom Mag, the ERLC and BRNow.org. He and his family live in rural North Carolina.

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