Wednesday, April 12, 2006

LCH: No Offense, But…

I’ve never been voted off the island, named the weakest link, or told what not to wear, but I’ve weathered my share of criticism—constructive, destructive, and otherwise. A sharply-worded email from a disgruntled reader makes me question my calling. A scathing evaluation from an audience member sends me back to my hotel room with a heavy heart. A mean-spirited letter from a Bible study attendee brings me to tears.

Ouch, ouch, ouch.

You’ve been there, too. A customer’s disparaging comments about your work still rankle. A supposed friend points out some character flaw “for your own good”—except her advice hurts more than it helps. An employer’s negative evaluation echoes in your head long after you’ve moved on to another job.

When, as the Bible aptly puts it, “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27), what’s a Christian to do? (a) Take those critical words to heart? (b) Pretend you never heard them? Or (c) strike back while your ire is hot?

The correct answer, of course, is (d) none of the above. But there are ways to turn a negative into a positive when unwelcome criticism comes along.

Consider the Source

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but some caustic comments stem from jealousy, frustration, or anger. Look not only at what people say, but also at who they are and why they spoke up. Are they qualified to judge you or your work? And are they speaking the truth in love…or throwing fiery darts intended to wound you? If it’s clear someone is speaking from a place of pain, overlook her caustic barbs and gently ask, “Are you okay? You seem really down today…”

Search Your Heart

Most criticism, however painful, bears a kernel of truth. Wise is the soul who finds that small kernel, chews on it, and swallows his or her pride along with it. However difficult the process, if we can grow and improve, the momentary discomfort is worth it. Years ago I performed on my first radio jingle…as a singing chicken. I was awful, and everyone in the studio knew it. Before the producer handed over my paycheck, he made me promise never to darken his door again. Though he said it with a smile, I got the message and took both the check and the lesson to heart. No more fowl play for Liz!

Seek a Second Opinion

Usually one discouraging comment is far outweighed by ten encouraging ones. Our human nature tends to focus on the lone naysayer and discount the many affirming voices, telling ourselves, “They’re just being nice.” Exactly! As Paul said, “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11). Nice is a good thing. Take a consensus vote—not one person’s opinion—as your guide.

Eliminate the Fringe

Any time you’re assessed by your peers, remember this rule of thumb: throw away the worst evaluation and (this is harder) toss out that gushing, over-the-top one, too. Fringe voices throw us off balance. Somewhere between “Wow!” and “Ugh!” lies an honest appraisal of our efforts.

Win Them Over

As a retiree my father took on the daunting volunteer task of handling complaints for his local government office. Not an assignment most people would want, but my dad loved the challenging of making an unhappy person happy. He listened to irate callers, agreed with them, and did what he could to appease them. But most of the time Dad simply helped them accept the situation using honesty and diplomacy. And patience.

First Things First

The truth is, only one opinion counts, only one evaluation truly matters. If I’ve done what I believe to be right and am criticized, I remember Paul’s soul-searching question: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?” (Gal. 1:10) Many times you can please both, but when forced to choose…well, a smart cookie like you knows what to do.

Liz Curtis Higgs, author of Grace in Thine Eyes (WaterBrook Press).


At 6:08 AM, Blogger Angela said...

Wise words, Liz. Thanks so much for sharing them!


At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've penned another "must read" for writers, Liz--both unpublished and published.

Of course, you've done a lot of that...

Bless you!


At 12:30 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

great advice...something we can all use in comes with "fluff" and "puff" - reminders using God's word are always timely.

At 3:34 PM, Blogger Southern-fried Fiction said...

I have to echo Angie. Wise words.

I try to remember I'm a child of the King, therefore I'm a Princess!

But a Princess, in the true meaning of the word, is a servant leader. So I try to do as you said and consider the source, then filter it through my Abba. He always knows exactly what I need to hear! :o)

At 5:05 AM, Blogger Kelli Standish said...

Your words are challenging and very, very true.

BUT, just for the record? You are a stalwart sister, a refreshing breeze, and a gift to all who know you.

Send anyone who says differently to me! (Insert evil grin here)

Cheering you on,


At 9:17 AM, Blogger Patricia Hickman said...

In our small groups, we like to teach that the gift of encouragement plays a very important role in rounding out the Body of Christ. And then I say, "Take Liz Curtis Higgs as your example for that. She oozes with encouragement. Follow her lead."


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