CriticismYou dread it. I dread it. Who doesn’t?

In fact, it can completely derail your day, your week, and your work.

So what do you do when it comes your way?

Can You Find A Criticism-Free Environment?

More than a few of us have dreamed of working in a place where no one criticizes anyone.

And, as a result, more than a few leaders have left a place of employment or ministry to find greener pastures where there won’t be as much opposition, only to be disappointed that criticism just seems to come with the territory wherever you go.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some toxic workplaces and there are definitely some toxic people (here are 6 early warning signs you’re dealing with a toxic person). And there are healthy workplaces and healthy people.

But even in a healthy environment, criticism is inevitable.

So how do you deal with it?

5 Ways To Make Criticism Sting Less and Grow From It

Here are 5 ways I’ve found to make criticism sting less and, in the process, respond in a way that helps me grow as a leader.

1. Don’t Respond for 24 Hours. Just Don’t.

Every time you get a critical email, a critical comment, a critical text or phone call, something happens inside you, doesn’t it?

Your heart starts beating faster. You feel hurt, even crushed depending on what they said. And sometimes you get angry.

And usually when that happens, your emotions derail your brain. At least they derail mine.

I learned years ago almost nothing good happens when I’m upset.

In an attempt to address the situation, I almost always make it worse. Even if I convince myself I’ll make it better, I usually don’t. Not when I’m upset.

So years ago, I made a rule.  When you feel an emotional reaction to criticism, don’t respond for 24 hours.

That’s easy in the case of an email, a text or written complaint. Just sleep on it.

But even when there’s a verbal exchange, just bite your tongue. Thank them. Say little or nothing. Don’t respond.

After 24 hours elapses, something amazing usually happens. You get your brain back.

A day later, you can respond reasonably and rationally to something that you once could only respond to emotionally.

You’ve slept on it. Hopefully you’ve prayed about it. And maybe you’ve even talked to a few wise friends about how to respond with grace and integrity.

You’ve lost nothing.

And you’ve gained so much.

So wait. Just wait.


2. Ask Yourself: Is There Any Truth in This?

During those 24 hours, you can start asking sensible questions, the chief of which is “Is there any truth in this?”

Sometimes there’s not. But often there is.

If you’re not sure, ask a friend or colleague. They may see what your critic sees.

Even if there’s just a nugget of truth, that nugget can help you grow into a better person and better leader.

Self-awareness is the key to emotional intelligence, and our critics help us become more self-aware.

Even if there’s zero truth in what the critic is saying, at least you searched. And by asking, you lost nothing.


3. Own What You Can.

Own whatever part of the issue you can.

Preachers, if someone says your message was useless, try to understand why someone walked out of the room feeling that way. Don’t just look to your fans to make you feel better. Try to understand how someone could have invested an hour of their life but left confused or upset.

If someone was offended by what you said, try to understand why. Own that piece, even if their reaction to what you did was a terrible overreaction.

Great leaders assume responsibility. Weak leaders blame.

So become a great leader, especially when it comes to criticism.


4. Reply Relationally.

Just because they shot off an email in the dark of night doesn’t mean you should.

Just because they came to the microphone in a meeting and sounded off doesn’t mean you should return the favour.

I learned this strategy from Andy Stanley and have followed it ever since.

Take your response to criticism up one level from how they corresponded with you. Reply in a way that’s more relationally connected than how they initiated things with you.


  • If they emailed you, call them. You’ll not only shock them, but you’ll quickly diffuse the situation. People are bolder on email than they ever are in a conversation. Nothing good regarding conflict ever happens on email.
  • If they stopped you in the hall and blasted you, take them out for coffee. Call them and tell them you would like to learn from them and address the issue in person.
  • If they got mad at a meeting, go for lunch after.

9 times out of 10, you will take the air out of the conflict balloon. And if they’re healthy, and you own whatever you can, you’ll be surprised at how it resolves the situation.

5. Discard the Crud.

Even if you find some truth in what they said, own what you can and reply graciously and relationally, sometimes there’s still crud in the mix.

Discard it.

Sometimes I think 95% of the conflict in the church have nothing to do with the church.

Your critic might have just had a huge fight with his daughter before he sat down at the keyboard to blast you. Your critic might simply be an angry person who has issues stapled to her issues. And you got an unfair shot. Or he may be someone who’s simply angry at the world.

We can’t make the assumption that all our critics are crazy, frustrated or need counseling. That’s an easy crutch too many leaders lean on.

But sometimes good people say and do bad things.

And sometimes the blast comes with zero basis in reality.

When that happens, you need to let the crud go. You’ve owned as much as you can of it, so let the rest fall away.

Pray about it. Talk to friends about it. Grieve the hurt (seriously…do this) and then let it go.

Don’t carry today’s baggage into tomorrow.

How Have You Learned to Let Criticism Sting Less?

I’ve found that by following these steps, criticism stings less AND I grow as a leader.

I’d love to hear what you’re learning in this.

How do you grow from your critics? How do you make sure the criticism stings less?

Leave a comment!


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  4. Lawrence W. Wilson on September 16, 2014 at 6:20 am

    Carey, I think these are great tips for dealing with good critics, that is people who are basically well intentioned but become upset by something, frustrated by change, etc. I would add a caution about applying no. 4 with the chronic complainer or frenemy. I realize it can be tough to tell the difference.

  5. Mark D Knox on September 15, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    Sometimes I dread criticizing others more that I dread them criticizing me. I work in a place where people tend to over criticize to see if they can strike a nerve, so I don’t let it bother me. However, I do try to look at what is said to see if there are areas of truth that I can improve on. The hard part is criticizing others without getting them mad and reducing their performance.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 16, 2014 at 5:18 am

      Mark…great to hear from you. I wish I had a spirit that was as low on criticism as yours. I’m just naturally more critical. You’re right…sometimes the challenge is to speak up. I think what helps is when you’re trying to help the person, not hurt them, the criticism comes across better.

  6. Chris Shumate on September 15, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Waiting 24 hours is something I need to do more of. These are great ways to make criticism sting less. Am I the only one that has ever been bombarded with excessive criticisms (like back-to-back-to-back)? Almost like when I’m down that can be when people seem to hit the hardest. Perhaps out of my immaturity, but when I am faced with multiple criticisms I will essentially ignore all of them. Refusing to learn from any of them, but I’m working on that.

    I go to one of my trusted advisers when I’m having a hard time with situations such as these. He is an expert at knowing me and how I react to things. So it’s easy for me to listen to him. His advice is always dead on. Even when it stings, I know it’s an issue with me and not him.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 16, 2014 at 5:18 am

      Love the self-awareness you’re developing as a young leader Chris. That’s seriously awesome.

  7. Tom Bump on September 15, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Carey, Thanks for this post!! I’ve had several meetings recently that some of these thoughts were in my head but there are a couple principles that I really need to work on. Thanks!!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 15, 2014 at 3:06 pm

      Tom! Thanks. Glad it was helpful. It took me years to learn this, but they’re handy tips to remember once you’ve learned them for sure.

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